I was shocked to discover (and it’s true) that David J had to sell a bunch of his Bauhaus memorabilia on Ebay in order to finance this recording. Now, I don’t know about you, and I’m generally a person who thinks that most musicians SHOULD have day jobs, but that made me nearly ill. Almost as ill as when I saw Rozz Williams’s job application to Retail Slut. What the fuck, men of the towering stature of David Fucking J should not… money should never even enter into their scheme of things. They should be left alone to create according to the nature of their whims, not fucking registering a username on eBay. Genius grants, give them to him, dammit! I blame the Goths.
But maybe the “Buy It Now” button finally justified itself, since Estranged is a revelation, gorgeous, late-night music — gently kissed with regret and those strange lights that candles throw in the small hours of the morning. Equally shocking as the whole eBay thing is the melancholy and even affecting cover of John Denver’s “Guitar Man” that kicks off the record. It’s lovely, man. Mark Kozelek handles breathy backing vocals, as part of his one-man crusade to make John Denver as critically respected as, say, Neil Young. These two might just pull it off.
“Mess Up” jaunts along with plastic neo-country and pure pop, with a swooning chorus of gentle “I’ll mess up your life’s” over slide guitar and worshipful backing vocals. Almost kinda Beach Boys. “Pulling Arrows From Our Heels” is where J drops the enigmatic dandy mask, and indulges in Scott Walker torch song fantasies over teardrop strings and acoustic guitars. Good enough to live in. Tears flood the stage. And the man is reborn for the rest of the record. Johnny Ray, Jaques Brel, Scott Walker are the new holy trinity.
The piano-driven “In the Great Blue Whenever” is almost too much to bear, just brimming with languorous slide guitar, falsetto oohs, gorgeous warm keys and J musing, without the least hint of bitterness, that “I’ll see you in the great blue whenever.” It crystallizes the moment right before the heart’s liberation, when you just want to soak in the comfort of the other, one last time. J opens “If Anything Should Ever Happen To You” with gentles shhh’s and I basically swoon and tear at my hair all Beatlemania style. But then he turns it into a pseudo-murder ballad catalog of revenge, over reverb and gently-picked guitars. He’s a smooth one.
“The Ballad Of August And June” is ambitious and reaching, trying to create a new pop canon. You can image Neil Diamond being all over this number. In a good way, fucker. “Trophy Wife” is probably too smart for its own good, arrangement-wise, performance-wise, lyric-wise. What’s that say about the zeitgeist? The alphabet recitations and crashing piano notes during the chorus of “Arc Of Return” are so awesomely dramatic, the dark singsong verses and buried horns remind me more of J’s first record. Disjointed! Yes!
“Estranged” is a lovely meditation on travel, transience and the constant, often cruel movements of life overlaid with gently strummed guitar and incidental piano — sweet and heroic stuff. “Time In The Sun” is an unfinished Beach Boys (why do I keep mentioning the Beach Boys?) pastiche, but with lyrics dripping with the sickness that hangs heavy in the Los Angeles air.
Estranged just might have passed up Tones On Tail’s Everything or even Candy On The Cross as the best post-Bauhaus record EVER.
Heyday Records: http://www.heyday.com/