Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Richard Swift - Dressed Up For The Letdown

I am 90% sure that time travel never has been (and never will be) true. The 10% that believes it will happen some day is split as such:
1. That someday, someone will actually build a working flux capacitor.
2. How else can you explain the music of Richard Swift?
It’s not just his influences. Everyone has influences…some people just make them a bit more obvious than others. Just by listening to this album you can pick out a number of influences, mainly The Beatles, Burt Bacharach, and a little bit of Tin Pan Alley/vaudeville thrown in for good measure.
Yet Swift’s music seems a little different, as if he didn’t record these today. Listening to this album makes me think that he actually was an artist from the ‘20s that was completely ahead of his time. His music has that timeless feeling to it.
Perhaps that’s what draws me to him, the fact that he’s so difficult to pin down. This album could’ve been recorded anytime in the 1900s and it wouldn’t have really felt that out of place.
This album actually a feels a bit like a combination of his previous two. The Novelist was a short (less than 20 minutes) album comprised of songs that sounded like they came straight out of the ‘20s. It was a stripped down album that seemed to have been recorded alone in his apartment (more than likely by the light of a sole, oil burning lamp in the corner) late at night, while the rest of the neighborhood slept, his window overlooking a deserted cobblestone street.
His second album, Walking Without Effort had a bit more to it. More instrumentation, more orchestration, more modern sounding (even that “modern” tag only took it as far as 1987). The sound of the ‘20s was all but gone.
On this, his third album, he seems to have found a great mixture of past and present. The album kicks off with “Dressed Up For The Letdown”, a song that starts in a fashion eerily similar to Tom Waits’ Bone Machine…a severely slowed down skiffle beat, with a chorus of ghosts in the background. It’s a simple, bare-bones song, propelled only by a guitar and that beat. Somewhere around the two-and-a-half minute mark a trumpet comes in. Not much else in the song changes at that point, but you can almost feel a change in the mood, like something better is coming along.
And it does, with the very next track, “The Songs of National Freedom”, which starts out with a bright, upbeat piano line (reminiscent of “Martha My Dear”) and the opening lines of “We’ve seen the rain we’ve seen the sunshine/Darlin’ you and I could never be wrong”. It’s a hopeful, summery song, and really sounds almost directly taken from the Lennon/McCartney songbook.
“Kisses for the Misses” is pop music at its finest. A big, vaudeville piano opens the song, which is promptly backed with a simple drum beat and hand claps.
“P.S. It All Falls Down” is probably my favorite track on the album. It’s an upbeat, piano-driven pop song, culminating in one of the catchiest choruses in recent memory.
There are precious few missteps on the album, and even those aren’t of the “I need to skip that track NOW” variety. The most obvious (to me, anyway) is the song “Most Of What I Know”. The song itself is actually pretty good, up until the repeating line “Your love will keep my heart alive”. Now, this line, in and of itself, isn’t really all that bad. In fact, it’s backed with a pretty cool drum breakdown. It’s the fact that every time this line comes up in the song he repeats it roughly 500 times. It just gets a bit old after a while.
The same rule applies to “The Million Dollar Baby”, only it’s not quite as over the top. He just keeps repeating, “I wish I was dead most of the time/But I don’t really mean it.” Again, it’s not as over the top as the previously mentioned song, but, by the end of it, you just kind of want to tell him to stop.
Aside from those couple of moments, though, this really is quite a good album. It proves, once again, that Richard Swift is helping to keep the art of the pop song alive and well in an age where that talent seems to have fallen by the wayside.

Rating: 8.3

Essential Tracks: “Kisses for the Misses”, “Artist & Repertoire”

Favorite Tracks: “The Songs of National Freedom”, “P.S. It All Falls Down”

Check out Mr. Swift's website here

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