[25 July 2012]
PopMatters Associate Music Editor
For the most part, when you listen to an album of standard pop, you’ll find a moment of familiarity, a moment where you might think “where have I heard this before?” None come so weird as the eighth track on Drop the Lime’s official debut full-length Enter the Night. Before we get to that, you need to understand that Drop the Lime – a.k.a. New York DJ Luca Venezia – produces music that’s a mix of modern-day dance (yes, there are breaks) with, of all things, old school rockabilly. It’s a bit intriguing to listen to, but it’s hardly original. The ‘80s band Boys Don’t Cry, after all, had a hit doing this sort of thing on “I Wanna Be a Cowboy”. Drop the Lime essentially, then, is merely updating the sound to be more inclusive for the 21st century. Now a little about that eighth track. You start listening to it, and you hear the opening words, “New Jersey turnpike / Riding on a wet night / ‘Neath the refinery’s glow / Out where the great black rivers flow”, punctuated by a rolling repetitive guitar line, and you definitely have to wonder where you’ve heard that before. Check the playlist and you’ll see that the song is titled “State Trooper”, and, yes, that would be the same “State Trooper” from a little album called Nebraska by Bruce Springsteen.
Now, “State Trooper” might seem like an odd choice for the covers treatment on the surface, for what is fundamentally a dance album. Nebraska, after all, is an anomaly in the Boss’s early catalogue for being unrelentingly bleak and musically Spartan – but, on the other hand, it isn’t. “State Trooper” has become something of a hipster anthem ever since Arcade Fire started covering it in concert. Win Butler and Regine Chassagne even joined Springsteen and his band for a rendering of the song live in Ottawa, Canada, back in October 2007. A quick look at the Wikipedia entry on Nebraska reveals that everyone from Chris Cornell and Steve Earle to the Cowboy Junkies has taken their own stab at covering the song. I’m not suggesting that Drop the Lime has picked up on the song for the sake of solidifying his own hipster credibility, but, even on an album full of rock/dance anthems, the song sticks out like a bit of a sore thumb. If you read articles on the Web, you’ll see that Venezia clearly has a love and reverence for both dance music and old rock ‘n’ roll standards of the ‘50s, so I’m not quite sure where “State Trooper” fits into this, aside from the fact that the song is fundamentally built on a mesmerizingly dirty little guitar riff that loops over and over. Still, the song is hard to screw up, and even though Venezia’s version doesn’t quite reach for the paranoia of the Boss’s version, it is more than serviceable, and a welcome addition to the spate of various versions of the song out there in Pop Culture Land.
“State Trooper” is not the only cover on Enter the Night. Venezia also takes on “(Ghost) Riders in the Sky” by ‘40s cowboy singer Stan Jones, another song that has been often performed by others, ranging from Johnny Cash to Bing Crosby to Peggy Lee to Elvis Presley and beyond. Here, Venezia removes the lyrics entirely and builds the song on its foundation of twangy guitar and infuses it with a section of rollicking percussion elements. Now, “(Ghost) Riders in the Sky” is a bit of a dated, cheesy song, so it was probably an apt move to get rid of the lyrics, but its positioning on an album that also contains something as stark and moving as “State Trooper” is a bit of a befuddling head-scratcher. It seems that the only point of its inclusion has to do with reverence, and here’s the main problem with Enter the Night. As subversive as rockabilly and country was in the ‘50s, it seems a bit quaint by today’s standards. When you combine those elements with the disposable and easy-come/easy-go nature of dance music, the end result is one that’s a little silly and an exercise that serves no purpose than to expose its creator’s love for all things kitsch. Much of the music here feels generic and off-the-cuff, and you can actually play a drinking game with this album. Take a swig every time “hot”, “cold” or the “devil” is mentioned, and you’ll be pretty blotto by the time Enter the Night has run its course.
Enter the Night is ultimately a mash-up album. It fuses the energy and dangerous sensuality of early rock with the debonair feel of modern club anthems. The thing is, I’m not quite sure what to make of it. There really isn’t a sense of cohesion to be found here, the tracks are all smattered together without much of a sense of logic, and Enter the Night, despite its reported four years to make, sounds very much like an artist who is still struggling to put the pieces of his genre bending sound together. You do have to give props to Drop the Lime (the name supposedly comes from a newspaper misprint of Venezia’s earlier and perhaps more apropos stage name “Walk the Line”) for trying something that is a little bit different or rarely heard, especially in club circles. However, for every funky track such as “Bandit Blues” – which does also seem a little on the sterile side with its keyboards and digital percussion – you get tracks such as “Circles”, which are staid and a tad bit ridiculous, since they sound somehow antiquated with its ‘80s style drums and the occasional surf rock guitar riff here and there. Ergo, Enter the Night is just fundamentally copacetic. It isn’t a hideous embarrassment, but it isn’t stellar and broad-reaching either. And I’m not quite sure if this music is “cool” enough to get played in the clubs these days. In the end, Enter the Night is an intriguing but lackluster experiment. It tries to graft unseemly genres together, but, in the end, you can pretty much see the stitches. When it works, by staying as close as possible to the bluesy swagger and fundamental blueprint of rock, it briefly comes alive. Put another way, that cover of “State Trooper”, as strange and beguiling as its inclusion may be, is clearly the best thing to be found here.