Tuesday, September 07, 2004

First Impressions

I have been a Steve Earle fan since "Copperhead Road" crossed over in 1988, an auspicious year (my 13th) in this musical journey since it was also the year the Traveling Wilburys first taught me to hate Bob Dylan's voice, to love Roy Orbison's. I got over that first immature reaction, obviously. I had bought my first LP the year before, and, as the top singles for the year show, it was a most glorious year for music. I haven't thought of it since but knew every word to the Stutter Rap (hey, do you think it could be, like Randy Newman's "Short People", a sophisticated and ironic comment on the nature of prejudice? No? OK.)

Anyway, enough nostalgia. As anyone unfortunate enough to have caught me after a few drinks knows, I wasn't much impressed with Jerusalem, Steve's last album. It suffered tremendously in comparison to Springsteen's The Rising which came out at a similar time, both as a memorable musical document and as a reaction to current events. It has the distinction of containing the only Steve Earle song that actually makes me cringe: the title track. Really, the Middle East situation is bad enough without making it worse with horrendous cliches ("I don’t remember learning how to hate in Sunday school." As they say in the classics, gag me with a spoon.) "John Walker's Blues" was a fair attempt at some Boss-esque psycho-mythologising, but then Bruce goes and writes "Paradise" and it is game over, gentlemen. Musically, it was nothing remarkable, nothing that kept me going back and repeated listenings in the last 18 months confirmed me in my reaction. Not a bad album, a good one actually but we expect more of Steve.

The Revolution Starts … Now is Steve Earle is rocking mode like never before on an album, with Roscoe's chainsaw lead guitar taking centre stage. It also continues his infatuation with manipulating his voice with studio trickery -- echo-y Steve, digitised Steve, scratchy Steve. It reminds me a bit of watching the video from my high school formal, all those snazzy effects straight out of the Wuthering Heights video clip. Very pretty, quickly dated and to no great purpose.

But I like the album, on a few spins so far. Particularly the country rock of "Home to Houston" and "Rich Man's War." Nothing out of the box, but solid. "Condi, Condi", surprising, I liked although I'm pretty unsure of its political intent. Anyway, nothing wrong with a bit of hillbilly reggae. Pretty catchy actually. First thoughts anyway, more perhaps to follow.

Last week brought the tantalising news about Steve heading into the studio with the Bluegrass Dukes. Now, that's definitely something to get out into the streets about.

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