(Artwork care of Karen Ramsay (www.karenramsay.com), profile photo care of brianlackeyphotography.com)

Thursday, July 2, 2009

CD review - Hugh Cornwell, HooverDam

Hugh Cornwell was the frontman for the Stranglers. They started out as a punk band in the '70s but evolved into a more mainstream sound through the '80s. Truth be told, they were never really punk like the Sex Pistols: they always sounded like the Kinks playing new wave music, mostly because of musical dexterity, use of keyboards, and relative lyrical sophistication. The biggest hit I remember came from the early '80s (Golden Brown).

Cornwell left with the band in 1990 and has released a lot of music since then. HooverDam is the latest album, which is available for free from his website. He's also selling packages combining the album along with other material.

Taken as a whole, HooverDam reminds me a lot of Robyn Hitchcock performed with a new wave/rock aesthetic. The comparison is largely due to some similar odd rhythmed vocal phrasing along with some peculiar musical and lyrical elements. The verses on Delightful Nightmare or the bridge on Beat of my Heart give a good sense of this. It's not a direct influence or homage, though. The songs have an enjoyable retro feel (new wave isn't so new anymore). The guitars usually have a fairly tattered distortion which make even the slower songs sound more edgy. Most of the songs are fairly simple, without overly complex lyrics.

The biggest exception to this simplicity is my favorite track, the instrumental Phillip K. Ridiculous. Here, a throbbing bass trails a guitar playing a repetitive, slightly discordant scale run. This "verse" sounds a lot like early Yes. It relaxes briefly into a short bridge that opens up into an accepting wash of chords to shift the mood. It's a nice bit of progressive rock and I also like the clever title, referencing Phillip K. Dick (which probably accounts for the paranoid sound of the verses).

Wrong Side of the Tracks is another great song. The main riff is lifted straight out of Jimi Hendrix's Crosstown Traffic. Despite the theft, it's a tight rocker with a good rolling bass. The lyrics fit the crime, too. The lead is a Beatles driven bit of psychedelia.

Delightful Nightmare rounds out my top three. The gothic sound of the intro fits the title. The verses are contemplative, but the chorus goes back to the intro sound and evokes Alice Cooper. The bass line is wonderfully menacing. The song ends with that bass line pierced by Psycho-worthy shards of guitar.

The rest of the album is pretty good. The only weak link in the chain is The Pleasure of Your Company, which is labored and jerky. But it's still listenable. Pull a pint of ESB to enjoy with the rest of the album.

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