Friends in high places may once in awhile throw you a bone, but won’t really invest themselves into helping you move forward. Willie Nile, championed by Bruce Springsteen, Pete Townshend, Lou Reed and Bono, and this big artist and that other one, still struggled to get this album released in the United States, despite its being the epitome of real, true American rock ‘n’ roll. I’ve learned from experience that it’s only “who you know” to an extent. In a world of artists respecting artists, it’s not right, but you can always be a threat.
With The Innocent Ones, Nile once again proves he’s a threat. Is he Springsteen? No. Is he fucking great? Yes. There is not a bad song on this album, 11 in all, 35 glorious minutes, and Nile achieved exactly what he wanted. The goal was to make an album about the downtrodden, the forgotten, the hopeless, in his words, “The Innocent Ones”, but to keep the vibe upbeat and hopeful throughout. Even on the most melancholy songs, such as the title track, things suddenly look up and you might smile and you might just want to keep going on. That’s what the music does to me, and let me tell you boy, that’s a rare feeling for me to have.
The music? Well, if you dig Springsteen, Petty, Peter Wolf (post-J Geils) – basically great, melodic American rock, this is right up your alley. It’s done with enough originality to separate Nile from the pack, and includes a few surprises (such as the Ramones-inspired “Can’t Stay Home”) that keep things from becoming mundane. Nile’s beeen doing this for 30 years. Put your faith in that.
Now that The Innocent Ones has hit American shores, it’s important to seek it out. This is an artist that needs to be supported. There is nothing cloying, fake, pretentious, or manipulative about the record. Although I find it important, the Bullshit Detector can be forgotten, because it boils down to this: 11 great goddamn songs, one beautiful and cohesive record.
Something struck me about the cover of the album: it shows a silhouette of Nile playing his guitar with the cord looped and dragging on the floor, like the real people do it. No cordless/wireless stadium luxuries. And it may mean nothing to most people, but it’s another testament to the honesty of Nile, a tiny, unintentional detail that brings everything down to earth. You’re not wireless. You are confined. It says a lot about the artist and the album.
Or, as Nile puts it: “Taking the long road has been a good thing.”