Before listening to Franklin Bruno’s new CD, throw on your bathing suit, grab a glass of lemonade with a little umbrella sticking out, and go sit by the pool. Free yourself of anything remotely resembling twentieth century technology, and prepare to get mellow. The songs on Bruno’s new album are often sad, set to upbeat music, sounding as if they’ve been ripped from 1950s California and thrust into the new millennium entirely as is. A thoroughly enjoyable mix of jazz, pop, and lounge music, Bruno has managed yet another complete package of sexy, smart songs.
That Cat is such a joy is really no surprise. Franklin Bruno seems unable to do any wrong. Since forming Nothing Painted Blue in 1986, he has produced oodles of quality songs. He’s a man who refuses to be tied to any of his many musical enterprises, releasing his solo albums (A Bedroom Community and Kiss Without Makeup prior to Cat) while still very much a part of the progressive outfit.
Bruno has also guested on tons of albums and with too many performers to mention them all, though the distinguished list does include the Go-Betweens, Beck, and Guided By Voices. He recently saw the release of Tempting, a collection of his songs as performed by Jenny Toomey and Calexico, released on Misra Records last month, and just helped out the Mountain Goats on their Tallahassee record following a successful duet recorded with Goats’ lead singer, John Darnielle. He’s also preparing to release a new Nothing Painted Blue record.
If this wasn’t enough, Bruno also writes musical criticisms for The Village Voice, Time Out New York, Salon.com and a variety of other publications, and he is in the middle of completing a Ph.D. in Philosophy at UCLA, his dissertation tentatively titled “The Role of Intention in Artifactual Representation”. Makes you wonder if somehow there are more hours in Bruno’s day than in your own.
Cat‘s top draw is its opener, “Dashboard Issues” which is a song about a guy stuck in the back seat of a car watching the couple in front flirt with each other. There’re two other people beside him, also flirting. Catch is, Bruno’s into one of them, the chick on the other side of the car, but she’s happy to flirt with the guy in the middle in order to bum his smokes. Poor B’s left to imagine the car crashing into the median strip in order to get this girl alone. It’s a tragic story of a third-wheel in love one of the first two, but completely unable to reach her, even in his romantic fantasies. “And then a tight interior / The only car in view / Two glamorous romantic leads / Portrayed by me and you But, I’ll take the bit part / I’ll have my scenes cut”—oh god! It’s so horribly sad, but oh so wonderfully charming.
He gets a bit more serious on “I Blame You” singing: “So perhaps you had fun / I completely forgot / Just how quickly you brought out the worst in me / Black and white turned to plaid / Every saint seemed a cad / Every value I had got reversed in me”. It’s a heartbreaking, simple song about the psychological damage left when a partner leaves, but is, again, another of the disc’s highlights. And he manages to inject the song with his trademark wit: “Is it them / No it’s not / You’re some government plot / When I’m put on the spot / I blame you”.
Bruno’s humorous approach to his songs is integral to his style. His tracks are almost novelty in nature that they’re filled with so much self-deprecating charm. The man is not out to conquer the world, just to tell his stories which at times read (and sound) like the diaries written by Mickey Spillane (“Stills from a movie / I never saw / And on the back was written Janet Shaw” on “Janet Shaw”), or even Sinatra (“I’ll let you see me naked / But you can’t look in my closet it’s a mess I guess she thinks I pity her / Or that I wish she were wittier” on “Threadbare” or “Who’s that guy on your shoulder? / What’s that crap on his chin?” on “Callous”). Either way, the songs win you over a little more with each listen.
A Cat May Look at a Queen is 13 songs of honest recollection, brutal and brilliant, funny and fulfilling. No one writes a song quite like Franklin Bruno, and, here he demonstrates once more just how well this busy man can spin a phrase and tell a story.