Cause and Effect
The new Human Drama record totally breaks my heart. But probably not in the way that frontman Johnny Indovina intends. It hurts me so much because it’s an absolute tragedy to hear one of the great crooners of the 21st Century shackled to the lackluster arrangements that form the backbone of Cause and Effect. This man, Indovina, has one of the most towering and soaring and, yeah, downright fucking epic voices of any man I’ve ever heard — he’s way up there in the pantheon, with Scott Walker and David Bowie and Elvis Presley in terms of raw emotion and beauty. But why is that skyscraper spire of a voice cuffed to such plodding, turgid “rock” — I take it as an insult, like being slapped with a velvet glove stained with Burger King’s special sauce. What the fuck, man? It’s mostly the fucking guitars — both in the playing and especially the recording. They sound lifeless and uninspired, and the way they’re recorded … dunno, but it just seems all paper-thin and insubstantial when stacked against THAT voice (with the exception of “Madame Hate’s Mad Search For Love,” because Michael Ciravolo’s riffing simply bolsters the acoustic guitar and keyboard lines, and then he busts out an evocative Slash-esque solo). This makes Sebadoh’s old stuff seem all hi-fi. And in any case, is electric guitar even necessary any more in the context of Human Drama? I’ve listened and re-listened to their personal high watermark, Pin Ups, and it’s good not because it’s other people’s material, but because of the elegant strength of the performances and the baroque backing. Just wanna say one more thing: maybe Indovina is best as an old-styled crooner, velvet jacketed and breathing visceral new life into old classic and forgotten gems. It’s a noble profession that’s been forgotten as of late.
But there are bright spots on this record, where the songs and the VOICE overcome the shortcomings of the accompanying sounds. “Quiet Desperation” ups the musical quotient a bit with a pretty neat cabaret-cum-blues backing and Indovina doing a fabulous invocation of David Bowie’s pained aloofness, circa Diamond Dogs. “Imitation Of…” sticks Indovina’s clipped rhymes, delivered like honey, and acoustic guitar front and center for dazzling effect. It’s that sort of emotional high that Human Drama can achieve as casually as most people open a bag of chips; man, that’s another reason that this album makes me sad: the Herculean reach is lazily restrained. “Lonely” mines the masterful cabaret vibe again with ringing pseudo-classical piano chords accompanying a reflective Indovina; the whole thing reminds me of early melancholy music hall, circa “Stardust” and some Ivor Novello numbers — it’s unparalleled in its class and kitchen sink, smeared-mascara dignity. The whole album should have been like this, no question. “Bang the Drum Slowly,” an Emmylou Harris number, is just immaculate and slow-burning, right up there with This Mortal Coil’s version of her showstopper “Till I Gain Control Again.” “The Battle” is a great song, marred by tinny backing tracks. Sorry. The VOICE scrapes the heights of Olympus, while the band is still moored solidly in the bar with the crappy mixing desk. “Dance Me To The End Of Love” sees my dreams come true, with Indovina finally taking on Leonard Cohen, lending his angelic whispers to Cohen’s words; it’s like floating in the ether, man. Five out of thirteen ain’t bad, but the when the five are THAT good, one can’t help but feel… wronged.
Projekt Records: www.projekt.com