June 15, 2010

Review: Pernice Brothers | Goodbye, Killer

If you’re keeping score at home, I still haven’t caught up enough to have read last year's Joe Pernice novel, It Feels So Good When I Stop, but I have already read his most recent book, which he reluctantly (unwillingly, perhaps) co-wrote with his manager, Joyce Linehan. Pernice To Me is, as Pernice describes it, a “libelous” chronicle (via a compilation of Linehan’s @Ashmont Twitter updates) of the period of time between the release of the novel and its corresponding soundtrack and the making of the Pernice Brothers’ newest long-player Goodbye, Killer in Linehan’s Dorchester attic (both are out today on Ashmont).

If you believe everything you read – and it is important to note again that Pernice strenuously warns against this – the recording of this album seems unlikely to have been so successful. It is indeed the loosest, least self-conscious, and most varied Pernice Brothers album yet. I mean this in the best possible way: this casual style loosens up Pernice’s song craft in a way that puts across a personal vibe that hasn’t always come across on the earlier records.

But before we get to that: it generally takes a back seat to Pernice’s songwriting, but it must be mentioned that there’s some really cool guitar moments on Goodbye, Killer courtesy James Walbourne (also of the Pretenders) and/or Actual Pernice Brother, Bob (there’s no specific credit breakdown, and I don’t want to guess): the lusty solo on “Jacqueline Suzanne,” the searing leads on “Something For You” that could have been on Bandwagonesque, the perfectly wrapped solo on lead-off track “Bechamel” that would have had George Martin himself beaming down from the Abbey Road control room, and the perfect slide solo that again recalls George Harrison - but this time his 70’s-era – on “Not The Loving Kind.” These are just the beginning of the way the sum of this collection makes these individual moments stand out.

Naturally, there’s some great harmony-laden pop - “Something For You” could be that long-lost Teenage Fanclub outtake – but even these are shaken up a bit here; “The Great Depression” is all arpeggiated jangle pop chords in the verse, but goes to a theatrical falsetto call-and-response chorus that’s weird but works. The perfect and stellar closer “The End of Faith” is classic twelve-string acoustic jangle, but with a Big Star’s Third sort of melancholy that is hard to do right. Pernice does.

These tracks stand out even more than they might have on previous Pernice Brothers albums since they’re surrounded by tracks like the strummy, can’t-be-broken-down-in-a-family-newspaper leadoff track “Bechamel,” which contrasts its sweet-harmonied chorus with an oddly aggressive vocal in the verses that makes its suggestiveness a bit unsettling; and the relating of the pursuit of a well-read object of desire with a blazing and appropriately lascivious guitar solo that makes the dynamite “Jacqueline Suzanne” a sort of New Wave-meets-ZZ Top affair; and the old-timey “We Love The Stage,” (which we can only take as sarcasm since it has been declared that there are no current plans for a tour), and the Faces (think Ronnie Lane, and not so much Rod Stewart)-Jayhawks flavored title track.

The common thread to it all, of course, is Pernice’s particular melodic style and literary wordplay. It is the rare lust song indeed that has the narrator longing to be a “book in her hand.” A sign of maturity, or are we all just getting old?

-Michael Piantigini

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