When Ezra Furman released his last album, Transangelic Exodus, just 18 months back, it felt like a reaction against the popularity of 2015’s very accessible Perpetual Motion People, which had put him on the very brink of crossover stardom. It was quite a dark record, coloured by recent World events, and contained some seriously off-kilter tunes. “We’re back and we’ve gotten weirder” said Furman joyously at the Bristol show on the Transangelic Exodus tour.
Well now, Furman is back again and is a little louder, or in some cases, a lot louder. Furman has already declared Twelve Nudes, his eighth full length record, as his ‘punk record’. Opener ‘Calm Down AKA I Should Not Be Alone’ certainly bears this out, a shouty, propulsive but insanely catchy song which was the first song from the album to be shared. ‘Evening Prayer AKA Justice’ follows and sounds like sixties Bob Dylan through a distortion pedal (that’s the vocals and guitars!), while ‘Transition From Nowhere’ is by far the most commercial offering on the record – the raucousness is replaced by a sweetly touching anthem (yes, anthem) with the killer line “Nobody cares if you’re dying ’til your dead”. It’s a wonderful song and one of his very best.
The contrast to ‘Rated R Crusaders’ could hardly be greater, an expertly-produced (by John Congleton – who has also worked with Sharon van Etten and John Grant) piece of fuzz-pop with Furman’s vocals sounding like he had to fit twice as many words in as would have been sensible. Sonically, it’s a really inventive track and it’s another that doesn’t outstay it’s welcome at just 2 mins 17.
On repeated listens, the album really grows and reveals itself to be maybe Furman’s most confident set to date, the scuzzy presentation perfectly complementing some wonderful songwriting. Far from the punk sound of the rest of the record, I Wanna Be Your Girlfriend has an almost fifties sound, a ballad that acts as a sort of half time break (if listening on CD or Applefy!). You could imagine Dean Martin singing it.
Again, there is a deliberately jarring moment as ‘…Girlfriend’ is followed by the barmy ‘Blown’, which sounds like The Cramps recorded underwater. It comes and goes in less than a minute and is followed by another supremely commercial piece of fuzz-pop in ‘My Teeth Hurt’, which concerns itself with that rarely-explored musical subject, dental insurance.
‘In America’ meanwhile bounds along like something from Dinosaur Jr‘s ‘Bug’, propelling itself along on a simple but perfect fuzzy bass line. At least half of the tracks on Twelve Nudes sound like singles, and ‘What Can You Do But Rock’n’Roll’ is yet another, sounding more like an opening track than a closer, another frenetic piece of premier pop music.
In Twelve Nudes, Ezra Furman has made a record at least the equal of anything that came before, and with his superb back catalogue, that is quite something. A short, sharp and above all, tuneful document of the state of the nation(s), Ezra-style, 2019.
Twelve Nudes is out now on Bella Union.