Although the Washington D.C. punk outfit Q and Not U called it quits in September of 2005, singer and bassist Christopher Paul Richards found a way to release a solo album just two short months after the group’s demise. Having written songs during the off time between Q and Not U touring, Richards took the results from his home in D.C. to Tim Hecker in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, and the result is Purple Blaze.
There is a neo-psychedelic bent to Richards’ solo debut that is tough to get your head around. This is music you have to specifically be in the mood for. Mixing a light, airy feel with dark undertones, the album as a whole is difficult to get through in a single sitting despite lasting just 60 minutes. The album opens with its strongest song, “Purple Blaze”, but it’s a choppy, stream of consciousness two-minute number that goes by too fast to fully comprehend on a single listen. There is a lot bubbling underneath this guitar and chimes rap. Richards offers only snippets of thought versus complete sentences, smartly opening the song up to multiple interpretations.
Songs like “Run Up Wild on Me” and “Valerie Teardrop” are about as conventional as you are going to get in this collection. The first song is filled with Richards’ unique vocals reaching Michael Jackson territory, circa Off the Wall, amid hand claps and acoustic guitar, while “Valerie Teardrop” gives the title track a run for best song on the album. Simple and primitive percussion moves and flows with Richards’ high register, layered singing and guitar work. Thematically, like most everything else on the album, your guess is as good as any on this song.
A lot of the ideas here seem half-baked. It seems that for every “Purple Blaze” or “Daft Young Cannibals” there is a “PlBz” and a “DyCn”. These two deconstructions of their proper songs are ambient soundscapes that are easily lost in the background, unlike “Up in My Window” and “Demo was a Runaway”—which are sonically difficult to handle, especially sequenced back to back.
Interestingly enough, the collection of songs translates well in Richards’ live solo shows. The album, however, is best listened to in a low key mood (and be warned, if you aren’t already, you will be by the time you are half way through the album). Purple Blaze is something of a murky, psychedelic journey through the backwaters of Richards’ mind, and flashes of happiness in his world are always tempered by the solemnity of his reality.