Tuesday, September 29, 2015
Music Review - Steve Taylor & The Perfect Foil - Goliath
Way back in 1987 Steve Taylor wrote and directed a video for nearly every song on his I Predict 1990 album. It was obvious that filmmaking was in his blood so it was no surprise in 1993 when he announced that he would no longer be making albums but would instead focus on videos for other bands and making a feature film. That film ended up being Blue Like Jazz and it came out in 2012. That’s a big project. So what to do after completing a massive long-term goal? Why not grab some music veteran pals and make an album? And why not tap into your enthusiastic fan base via Kickstarter and exceed your goal three times over? But first you have to stop by the DMV (Department of Music Veterans) and renew your license to rock (search “Steve Taylor DMV” on YouTube for one of the most clever and humorous videos I’ve seen in a long time.)
Could any album be worth a wait of over two decades? Probably not. Chinese Democracy certainly wasn’t. Fortunately I am relieved and pleased to announce that this new album, Goliath, is crazy good from start to finish, easily one of the best I’ve heard this year. The first few listens, though, left me lukewarm. The songs seemed overly simple and none of Taylor’s usually satirical lyrics caught my ear. But then it happened. The song was “Moonshot”, which starts airy and modest, just vocals and clean guitar, when all of a sudden a big furry bass dive bombs in and turns the entire song into a funky retro swagger (think Spoon). It was then that I started to realize how incredibly well recorded everything was, albeit somewhat dry which only lends to its aggressiveness, and I started to hear all kinds of nuances supporting but never distracting from what I first thought were simple songs. For instance, the guitar which opens “In Layers” is sublimely ratty with the (likely vintage, not modeled) amplifier on the verge of falling apart. This killer song sports its own heavy, dirty groove, helped along by judicious use of horns, redefining the term “blistering.” I was firmly in the grip of the Tom Petty-esque “Double Negative” when I realized who I was dealing with. Guitarist Jimmy Abegg has “played the big rooms” since before I learned how to type and drummer Peter Furler is known in some circles as “OHMYGOSH-ITSPETERFURLER!”, drummer, lead singer, songwriter and founder of Christian music’s Newsboys. And then there’s John Mark Painter. Don’t be fooled because this man is “just” playing the bass. This is the guy behind the orchestrations of early Ben Folds Five albums. Oh yeah, he’s also a multi-instrumentalist (those horns don’t play themselves), composer and studio guru, to name just a few of his accomplishments. How can an album sound simultaneously trashy and crystal clear? Only Mr. Painter knows…
Aside from the three mentioned above, it’s difficult to pick out favorites on this album. The album rips to life with “Only A Ride”, each song hitting hard in their self-described “rock, but in an indie-alternative kind of way”, slipping in shards of humor and often marinating in a funky groove reminiscent of 70s-era Rolling Stones, not letting up until track ten, the contemplative “A Life Preserved”. But look at me, prattling on and on about the music and leaving the crafty lyrics in the cold. Well how about “The saints came marching in this morning / And they marched right out the door / Wholly offended / No pun intended.” This is from “Comedian”, a song which hipsters might say has much in common with The National but to me it sounds like a perfect Steve Taylor closing song, opening quietly with piano, a touch of cello and timpani, and blazing to life halfway through with a wall of distorted guitars and hissing cymbals.
It’s a shame that Goliath came out in November because it’s raucous, raw songs are perfect for blasting from a car with the windows rolled down. Fortunately it’s good enough that I’m certain this high-energy album will still be on my MP3 player in spring.