[19 September 2011]
The Last Werewolf may be a first for the world of popular music: an album for which understanding is almost ungraspable without having first read the book. See, The Last Werewolf is billed as a soundtrack for a book written by Glen Duncan, a critically acclaimed author best known for 2002’s I, Lucifer. Billed as idiosyncratic and tough to stereotype as a writer, Duncan’s public profile is a perfect match for the brains behind the Real Tuesday Weld: Stephen Coates, who’s spent the past decade experimenting with the melding of baroque 1950’s jazz and new millennium electronic beats, forging his own self-named genre “Antique Beat”. Fittingly, the crown jewel of Coates’ project to this point has been his interpretation of I, Lucifer, released in conjunction with the novel. But the album also doesn’t fit very cleanly into the rest of Coates’ catalog, as it focuses more directly on acoustic, foggy jazz ballads and depression than the aloof, programming-centric style of his later efforts.
The Last Werewolf is, disappointingly, not very much like that record. Rather than create a concept album full of great songwriting centered around a (supposedly - I’ve never read Glen Duncan) great book, The Last Werewolf: A Soundtrack is quite literally what it’s title claims to be. The release is full of interludes with audiobook-like portrayals of dialogue from the book as well as instrumental pieces imagined as music by which to read given parts of the book. Unfortunately, on their own most of this isn’t particularly arresting. Perhaps most disappointing is the appearance of “(I Always Kill) The Things I Love”, a ballad which first appeared in the end credits of Rockstar Games’ L.A. Noire. There the song was a lilting jazz club ballad performed by Claudia Brucken rooted on upright bass and a very pretty trumpet solo. The song here is still the highlight of the set, but Coates’ whispery vocals take some of the bite - pun intended - out of the song’s noir version. The song is still well-written, and the switch to a flute and saxophone is an interesting touch, but it feels a little more like a novelty cover than the song’s true form.
“Love Lust Money” thus becomes the standout of the album, bringing to mind the sinister clubs Blade would frequent in the Wesley Snipes films. An insistent and simple four-on-the-floor beat backs some very clever synthesizers and dialogue interweaving, eventually evolving into an all-out dance number worthy of raised arms and ecstasy-fueled orgies. As for the instrumentals, tracks like “Time of the Month” convey the sense of dread that comes with a man becoming a wolf man, but other tracks like “The Hunt” come off campy. There are more than a few moments where it feels like Coates just can’t put himself into the shoes of a werewolf as confidently as he could the devil reincarnate. Eventually, The Last Werewolf takes on the character of a creative writing assignment as much as an album proper. Readers of the book may get more mileage out of this album, but as a standalone album The Last Werewolf reminds me too often of stuff by other retro-future acts like Dresden Dolls; heavy on interesting ideas, light on actual gripping content. There’s some fun to be had here, particularly when Coates’ vocals channel an inner sort of Tom Waits, but too often I’m left feeling I’d enjoy this album better with a movie to support its sound.