Ooooh...21st Century Glam Rock...Aaah
If the title of the new Butch Walker CD reminds one of David Bowie’s tribute to Ziggy Stardust, let me assure you, the coincidence is entirely intentional. Walker’s latest opus captures the sound and mood of that glam rock masterpiece, as well as that of the best of Marc Bolan and Mott the Hoople. This record is at least as good, if not better, than anything they made.
This album is the real deal, the shit, a modern masterpiece, and I don’t use those terms lightly. It rocks from beginning to end with an arched eyebrow and a steamy sexuality, while the songs sparkle with wit. The music serves as a heightened soundtrack for the movie of one’s mediated existence and the real one in which we live—can the two ever really be separated? Pass the drugs of choice, please. The lyrics mock our pretensions, hopes and fears: Watch the celebrities ball. Wham, bam thank you—er…ma’am? Even the slow songs, like “Dominoes”, contain the sweet echo of rehab and lost salvation more than the promise of a rosy future. Memories and grace (sigh) promise more than can ever be delivered.
Do I ramble? Very well then, I am large. I contain multitudes or at least have had sex with too many to remember. Like Walker, our collective vistas have always been democratic in a sophisticated way. Raunchy? Well what would one expect from songs like “Hot Girls in Good Moods” and “Paid to Get Excited”. But cheap thrills are just one part of the pleasure. In an age of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, one is as free to hate as one is to love and the god of love is the god of hate. Not only that: “God is the new Elvis / and he’s gonna rock tonight,” Walker croons to a fast-paced martial beat, and you know he’s right whether one asks the Lord’s help hunting for the enemy or just wants divine assistance to get laid.
Walker’s songs are open to interpretation because of their specifics. “All these words keep shooting out my pencil like a gun,” Walker says. “I use the gunshot words so they won’t get on the air.” Holy Pynchon and shades of Oedipa Maas. The underground way of communication has returned with a vengeance.
But this ain’t some lo-fi independent alternative bullshit. This is major label arena rock with pretensions. Walker aims to bring everyone together under the big tent. He writes anthems, and when the song doesn’t have a catchy chorus, he calls it “Song Without a Chorus”. Who needs a chorus when the verses themselves contain hooks big enough to catch sharks? And Walker is not content to perform one style. He confounds expectations and breaks into alt country on the acoustic-stringed tale of America’s rural working class’s unfulfilled dreams, “Rich People Die Unhappy”. Like Jethro Clampett trying to keep up with the high society set, Walker unwittingly knows we are on a quest one can’t win or even understand.
Walker has garnered a reputation as a producer of hits for his work with Pink, Avril Lavigne, and Lindsay Lohan to name a few, but this disc suggests he deserves to be a star in his own right. (Ironically, he is a judge on the television program Rock Star.) Walker does more than see through the bull. He takes the bull by its horns on this disc, rides it for eight seconds and turns its hide into a purse and its muscle into meat. And like those before him, he knows “it ain’t the meat its the motion that makes one want to rock.”
Walker infuses his melodies with snarky guitars and pounding drum beats. Whether he’s singing about the geography of Los Angeles eating up the city, as in “When Canyons Rule the City”, or starlets hanging out after hours in “Too Famous to get Fully Dressed”, Walker knows the point is always the same: let’s rock. It doesn’t matter if the world is coming to an end. The worst sin is being boring. That’s one thing Walker will never be.