Around a decade or so ago, Violent Femmes frontman Gordon Gano informed me, in the most gushing tones, that he was proud of a critical review of the band’s 1984 album ‘Hallowed Ground’ that once appeared in Rolling Stone magazine which ran thus: “Gordon Gano’s voice will clear out a room faster than a methane explosion’.
Ezra Furman sounds a lot like Gordon Gano.
Thankfully, we’ve all grown up a lot since the eighties and learnt to embrace the avant-garde and more ‘alternative’ of artists. Not that this applies to Furman’s latest album because frankly, it sounds like he had an absolute ball making it, and it feels like the best party you, as a listener, have attended in years. Everybody’s dancing here, nobody’s spilling their lager, getting angry and picking fights with the geeky kids, not even the gatecrashers.
‘Perpetual Motion People’ is an album full of shoobedoos, dipshedipshedips and doobedoowopwops, courtesy of some eager backing vocals that are as playful as something from the ‘Grease’ soundtrack, shamelessly kitsch yet somehow deeply alluring. Maybe it’s because of Furman’s wickedly witty prose that he gets away with it, or maybe it’s because nobody has released anything that’s this much fun in years.
Lyrically, the Chicagoan has clearly taken his lead from the pen of Dylan. For instance, on the pounding, thrilling opener, ‘Restless year’, how much more Bob can you get than “Yeah, nobody knows in the all night diner, rolling with Rose and Miss Mary L. Steiner“? Similarly, the outstanding ‘Lousy Connection’, musically evocative of Rufus Wainwright, features some clever humour that his Bobness would be proud of – “So I’ve been working on this letter to congress/regarding some things that I think they should address/Showed up in court wearing an Indian headdress/somehow I think maybe the message was lost“. This is just one of the many occasions I almost spat out my coffee laughing during my first listen.
I’m still laughing at some of it even now, several spins on.
The confoundingly short ‘Hark To The Music’ beckons comparison with Brakes‘ 2005 album ‘Give Blood’ , and then ‘Haunted Head’ unleashes its inner-Bowie on you, certainly circa his Berlin period, and hurls a chunk of Television into the ever expanding melting pot just for good measure.
It’s on the captivating slower numbers like ‘Hour Of Deepest Need’ and ‘Watch You Go By’ that Furman most closely resembles the previously mentioned Gano. The first of these is a giddy lament to loneliness and depression, which may sound like a contradiction of what I was saying earlier, but somehow he seems to be EMBRACING that solitude, or sometimes fighting it, but never completely rejecting it. A positive song from a negative position, if you will. “Sometimes it’s best just to LET THAT SUCKER BLEED” is his passionate enunciation, perhaps a reflection of his past self-harming days as a means to get through the day. It might sound depressing, but it has the exact opposite effect, proffering a feeling of absolute elation instead of maudlin exasperation.
Perhaps the strongest songs on PMP though, are the nods back to the party music once provided by good time glam rockers like The Faces or, in particular, Slade. These come in the shape of the quite wonderful ‘Wobbly‘, which does, indeed, bob around hysterically before the dramatic midpoint in which the singer – entertainingly and theatrically – confesses that “sometimes I wobble down to a deep dark hole at the bottom of the ocean floor” and finally brings the song to its rowdy, raucous conclusion with a glorious psycho-sax workout, and the Devendra Banhart meets Marc Bolan swagger of the insanely infectious musical self-help manual that is ‘Body Was Made’.
One can only hope that Robbie Williams doesn’t get wind of the showy vaudeville of ‘Can I Sleep In Your Brain?’ (Finally! Someone actually bothered putting a question mark on the end of a song title! More bonus points for that!) because it’s just the kind of high camp melodrama that you can imagine him covering and over-egging until it is an omelette of mundanity. Thankfully, in Furman’s hands, it doesn’t suffer such a fate.
“I’m sick of this record already“, bemoans our showman halfway through the album in a delightfully tongue-in-cheek introduction to ‘Ordinary Life’, and later assures us that “The human mind gets sick real easy/The human mind gets way fucking sick of beauty“. Well, sir, I’m not sick of the record at all, and it contains a LOT of beauty.
My estimation is that, throughout each year, amongst the several thousand album releases, there are maybe a handful of gems amongst the chaff. This is one of them. It might not be perfect, but somehow, that kind of MAKES it perfect, if that makes sense. An utterly absorbing record, zealously delivered with the zest and zing of a songwriter right at the top of his game.