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Rhythm & Views

Barry Adamson

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Barry Adamson
Back to the Cat (Central Control)

Over seven previous solo records, musical polymath Barry Adamson carved out an original niche as a purveyor of ultra-cool "cinematic soul," producing worldly, genre-hopping records stuffed full of material that could have/should have been soundtracks to unmade movies. Add to that full-blown soundtracks for David Lynch, Oliver Stone and other filmmakers, and you have a composer/vocalist/multi-instrumentalist and visionary of considerable style, depth and panache.

Back to the Cat may be his best record yet, 10 tracks of funky, jazzy, soulfully sophisticated musical noir that generally tread around the edge of one calamity or another. Adamson played most of the instruments, then multi-tracked on the work of several other musicians. "Shadow of Death Hotel" and "Walk on Fire" show off what he does so well: They are propulsive, funked-up tracks with Hammond organ, horns, scratchy or wah-wah guitar and insinuating grooves that channel Isaac Hayes, Curtis Mayfield and Ennio Morricone right into the 21st century.

But crafty Adamson also keeps throwing curveballs, from the Burt Bacharach-like orchestral pop number "Straight 'Til Sunrise" to the wickedly rocking gospel of "Civilization." "I Could Love You" is soul pop to die for, while "Flight" is a dub-jazz instrumental. Bracketed by menacing, brassy numbers "The Beaten Side of Town" and "Psycho_Sexual," Back to the Cat spends most of its time on dark streets and in treacherous situations: Adamson reports from the darker side of human experience while also letting in some light to add perspective and balance.

This one sounds like a classic.

Carl Hanni The Long Blondes

Couples

ROUGH TRADE

It's consistent with the post-postmodern moment that everything on the latest Long Blondes album reminds one of something else. It's like the arch referentiality of a Family Guy episode filtered through a dance party co-deejayed by Justine Frischmann and Vince Clarke.

However, Couples is not as all over the map in its musical reference points than 2006's Someone to Drive You Home, essentially dropping the "riot grrrl-group" sound that fueled that album and adopting a more polished aesthetic. Couples is a clubbier record, though with a raucous punk flavor.

Lyrically, the band describes a world firmly rooted in mid-20s hipster angst. Kate Jackson crafts herself as a kind of art-school chanteuse who relishes two things above all others: (1) telling off boys and (2) describing her own irresistibility. On "Guilt," she refuses to cheat on her boyfriend with an insistent suitor, and later takes a two-timing boyfriend to task on "Too Clever by Half." "The Couples" is a playgirl's lament in which Jackson complains about the travails of the single life, namely being lusted after by all the boys and viewed with suspicion and disdain by all the girls. But the flat narcissism of the Long Blondes is a large part of their appeal.

The record works best in its most egregiously shallow moments: as the soundtrack to vapid but glamorous thrill-seeking, or a sing-along for relationships with a seventh-grade level of emotional complexity. Though its dance-pop momentum falters a bit in the second half, Couples offers a tasty slice of shopping mall agit-pop.

Sean Bottai Nick Cave

and the Bad Seeds

Dig!!! Lazarus Dig!!!

ANTI-

The only negative thing about Nick Cave's latest opus of degradation and hope is the vulgar excess of punctuation in the title. Otherwise, this record is among the best in an oeuvre that is threatening to rival those of Leonard Cohen and Johnny Cash for audacious mastery of the popular music form.

The title track is a masterpiece, a mutant, lurching R&B barroom rave-up. In it, the biblical Lazarus is depicted as a cosmopolitan celebrity, arms dealer and unrepentant womanizer. But "Poor Larry" can't shake the angst inherent in his forced return from the dead: "He never asked to be raised up from the tomb / No one ever actually asked him to forsake his dreams."

Cave narrates as if he were a hellfire-spitting preacher, or maybe even a musing deity. He sums up Lazarus' fate, and that of all who shuffle off this mortal coil: "But what do we really know of the dead? / and who actually cares?"

Themes of emergence and transformation continue in "Moonland": "When I came up from out of the meat locker / the city was gone." Obsessed with the need for love during dangerous times, this dark stroll of a song slithers along on fuzz-tone guitar and soulful clavinet.

Cave balances old-school romanticism, desperation, desire and the apocalypse with "Night of the Lotus Eaters," "We Call Upon the Author" and "Jesus of the Moon" before closing with "More News From Nowhere." In his view, the world is dying around us, yet he seems to urge: Long live the world.

Gene Armstrong Barry Adamson

Back to the Cat

CENTRAL CONTROL

Over seven previous solo records, musical polymath Barry Adamson carved out an original niche as a purveyor of ultra-cool "cinematic soul," producing worldly, genre-hopping records stuffed full of material that could have/should have been soundtracks to unmade movies. Add to that full-blown soundtracks for David Lynch, Oliver Stone and other filmmakers, and you have a composer/vocalist/multi-instrumentalist and visionary of considerable style, depth and panache.

Back to the Cat may be his best record yet, 10 tracks of funky, jazzy, soulfully sophisticated musical noir that generally tread around the edge of one calamity or another. Adamson played most of the instruments, then multi-tracked on the work of several other musicians. "Shadow of Death Hotel" and "Walk on Fire" show off what he does so well: They are propulsive, funked-up tracks with Hammond organ, horns, scratchy or wah-wah guitar and insinuating grooves that channel Isaac Hayes, Curtis Mayfield and Ennio Morricone right into the 21st century.

But crafty Adamson also keeps throwing curveballs, from the Burt Bacharach-like orchestral pop number "Straight 'Til Sunrise" to the wickedly rocking gospel of "Civilization." "I Could Love You" is soul pop to die for, while "Flight" is a dub-jazz instrumental. Bracketed by menacing, brassy numbers "The Beaten Side of Town" and "Psycho_Sexual," Back to the Cat spends most of its time on dark streets and in treacherous situations: Adamson reports from the darker side of human experience while also letting in some light to add perspective and balance.

This one sounds like a classic.

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