The sixth album to bear the Pernice Brothers moniker has many qualities we’ve come to love and expect from a Pernice Brothers record, including the usual fixations on ’70s soft rock and The Smiths. If it is something of a disappointment, it is only because of the high quality of the five albums that preceded it and because of the stripped down approach the band has chosen to follow with this effort.
Frontman Joe Pernice is joined on this record by the occasionally erstwhile other Pernice brother, Bob, who was also a part of Joe’s ’90s alt-country band the Scud Mountain Boys. Also on board is guitarist James Walbourne, who when he wasn’t touring with Chrissie Hynde’s Pretenders has been with the band since 2005’s Discover a Lovelier You, and veteran drummer Ric Menck (Velvet Crush, Matthew Sweet). Noticeably absent this time out is regular guitarist Peyton Pinkerton, who could always be counted on to serve up some impeccably tasteful fretwork.
The result is a much more homemade sounding disc than what we’ve become accustomed to in the years since the band’s lush, orchestrated 1998 debut Overcome By Happiness. It has much more of a “let’s get the guys together in the attic and bang out some tunes” feel than anything in the band’s catalog.
The record starts out strongly enough with the one-two punch of rockers “Bechamel” and “Jacqueline Susann.” On the former, Joe Pernice’s vocals sound a tad forced and straining but the guitars are certainly typically tasteful. On the latter, the ever literate Pernice namedrops not only the titular Valley of the Dolls author but also British novelist Ford Madox Ford somewhere amidst the squalling six string work.
The twangy vaudeville-tinged ode to life on the road “We Love the Stage” hearkens back to the Pernices’ Scud Mountain days. “It doesn’t matter if the crowd is thin / We sing to six the way we sing to ten,” Pernice sings. He professes to even like “the smart-ass kids who shout out ‘Free Bird'” in his face. But the road life does take a toll: “My boy thinks I’m his uncle / There’s a dog who never knew my smell / It’s just as well.”
“The Loving Kind,” with its George Harrison-esque slide guitar and “Something for You,” with its guitar freakout on the fade, are much closer to the ’70s soft rock sound that has been the band’s Bread and butter over the years (sorry for the terrible pun).
Speaking of slide guitar, the lick on the title track sounds like an update of The Faces “Ooh La La.” “Life looked pretty from where we stood / But you were shooting for the gutter and your aim was very good,” Pernice sings.
The Telecaster twang of “Newport News” is Pernice aping Elvis Costello in country mode. It features the classic opening line, “Sadly I woke up in Connecticut,” and offers additional clever wordplay like “I’d kiss your ass to kiss your ass again.”
Unfortunately, there are a couple of duds here as well. The normally impeccably precise Pernice hits some bum notes on “The Great Depression” and “F***ing and Flowers,” attempting a tone deaf and tune-challenged falsetto. On the former, the man who once sang “I hate my life” offers “I never wanna die.” I guess that’s progress.
But the Pernices right themselves for the set-closing “The End of Faith,” a pretty number that features twin 12-string acoustic guitars.
And in just over 32 minutes, the band is outta here. Goodbye, Killer is definitely not the definitive statement from the Pernice Brothers and it isn’t where I’d recommend anyone start with their catalog. But you get the feeling neither of those is what the band intended for this album to be in the first place. Goodbye, Killer is the sound of two brothers and a couple of old pals getting together in the attic to bang out a few tunes. As such, it sounds pretty good.
Pernice Brothers: www.pernicebrothers.com