Gary Lucas & Gods and Monsters: The Ordeal of Civility

[18 May 2011]

By Stephen Haag

Gary Lucas’ CV runs the gamet from time served with Captain Beefheart’s Magic Band and Jeff Buckley to an album of pre-WWII Chinese Pop (no, he’s not that old—he released The Edge of Heaven in 2001). So if he wants to team up with the Talking Heads’ Jerry Harrison and take a spin through wide-ranging, brainy, guitar pop, who’s gonna stop him? Despite the ominous title, Gary Lucas & Gods and Monsters (including Television’s Billy Ficca and the Modern Lovers’ Ernie Brooks) are far from a bunch of Mr. Crankypants. In fact, The Ordeal of Civility sometimes sounds like it was too fun to make, and could stand a little more focus That opinion, I guess, makes your reviewer the cranky one.

Opener “Luvzoldsweetsong” plays it pretty straightforward, with a few keyboard fillips from Joe Hendel, but from there, it’s anything goes. “Chime On” could be a lost Peter Wolf track; “Swamp T’ing” is more mutant blues than swamp riff; “Hot and Cold Everything” feels like The Grand Wazoo-era Zappa; “Lady of Shalott” is six-minutes-plus of British folk beardiness dropped right in the middle of the album, followed by alternating pastoral acoustic tunes and garage stompers.  Rhe album highlight is one of the latter, “Peep Show Bible”, which opens with a Big Rock Ending and only revs up louder from there. Plus, the track gets bonus points for the line “From Genesis to Revelations ain’t a thing that ain’t been tried and done”.

Like the aforementioned Zappa, Lucas and his crack band want us to be mesmerized by their genre mastery and facility, but there’s something to be said for being moved and not just dazzled.

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