When one thinks of Italy, the usual, stereotypical images come immediately to mind. Good espresso, fresh pasta, Vespas speeding through narrow streets, beautiful wines, delicious olives, and of course, soccer. But upon spinning Franklin Delano’s Like a Smoking Gun in Front of Me, listeners will be surprised to learn the band hails from Bologna. Copping the first two-thirds of President Roosevelt’s name and conjuring a musical web that liberally borrows from American folk, blues, and country traditions, Franklin Delano are ready to shake any preconceived notions of their own geography for something that will reach listeners on the other side of the Pacific.
In creating Like a Smoking Gun in Front of Me, Franklin Delano laid down the basic tracks in Italy. They then brought the tapes to Chicago, and, with the help of musician Tim Rutili, producer Brian Deck, and the members of Califone, surrounded their neo-roots sound with noise and bold experimentation. If this description has images of Yankee Hotel Foxtrot dancing in your mind, you’re not far off the mark, but Franklin Delano’s worship at the altar of Tweedy and O’Rourke has resulted in an album that is nothing more than a pale knockoff.
The first problem with Like a Smoking Gun in Front of Me is the bizarre sequencing. The album opens with “Call It a Day”, a swooping seven-minute track that ends with about two minutes of solid drone. It’s a lugubrious opening to the disc and symptomatic of the larger problem that plagues much of the album. While Yankee Hotel Foxtrot lived in a world of noise, ghost voices, and avant composition, at its root was simple, well conceived songs. Moreover, Jim O’Rourke’s production created an entire world in which each of the songs lived and breathed. In Franklin Delano’s case, the entire exercise is a storm of sound with no eye to guide it, and certainly no aspirations of being coherent. These 10 tracks are highlighted by pointless jamming, ill-conceived detours which result in bloated running times. Only two songs fall short of the four-minute mark, while the rest sprawl out, with the worst reaching the upper registers of 11 minutes.
Perhaps worse, vocalists Paolo Iocca and Marcella Riccardi can’t sell what their singing. Iocca’s reedy, nasal delivery and Riccardi’s unremarkably breathy voice fill the spaces but lack the emotional gravitas or intangible transcendence that allows someone like Tweedy to utter a line like “I am an American aquarium drinker” and break your heart. The performances on songs like “All Your Body Broken Clues” and “Your Perfect Skin Line” come across as third-rate beat poetry, rather than deeply felt, though abstract, musings. I don’t think I can remember a single lyric over the course of the album’s one-hour running time, other than those that repeat the song titles.
Franklin Delano’s ambition is admirable and, frankly, refreshing. It speaks volumes about how the way we hear music has changed over the past 15 years. The Internet has made it easier for people everywhere to indulge and check out any music that intrigues them. However, what Franklin Delano have failed to do in exploring the American musical landscape is bring their own experience and history with them. One can only imagine what kind of album is waiting to be delivered once Franklin Delano begin informing their sound with their own unique perspective.