Salim Nourallah’s knack for capturing the spirit of pure pop within the context of razor sharp hooks and sweet, seductive melodies make for pure old school enjoyment.
The late James Brown aside, Salim Nourallah may be the hardest working man in show-biz. OK, that’s obviously an exaggeration, but given his past credentials -- an aggregate with his brother Faris succinctly titled the Nourallah Brothers, the two albums he recorded with his pop punk outfit the Happiness Factor, one with a later band called the Travoltas, as well as his string of solo albums -- he’s clearly kept himself quite active over the course of the last 20 years. A handful of television song placements have helped of course, but regardless, it’s his stint as producer for the Old 97s, Rhett Miller and Nicholas Altobelli, among others, that have upped his recognition factor far more than anything recorded under his own aegis.
While Nourallah’s contributions to the Old 97s’ success can’t be overstated, it ought not deter from the enjoyment found in his individual efforts. Nourallah’s knack for capturing the spirit of pure pop within the context of razor sharp hooks and sweet, seductive melodies make for pure old school enjoyment. Naturally then, his new album, Skeleton Closet, is no exception, and frankly, there’s no reason why it ought to be. While the musical terrain is varied on occasion, employing a certain air of mystery and mystique on darker numbers like “Two Years", the plodding “Tokens of Your Cruelty", the mind-melding “Crocodiles” and the appropriately ominous “The Bullies Are Back", Nourallah’s cheery delivery is otherwise indulged.
Combining the effusive elation of mid-‘60s Britpop, the sardonic commentary of Ray Davies and the oddly perverse observations of Robyn Hitchcock, these songs avoid the patent blueprint approach of most modern alt pop and offer instead an intrigue and exaltation that’s all too rare these days.
Admittedly, it can be a bit weird at times, and even somewhat suggestive. Take, for example, this extract from the aforementioned “Two Lizards”: “2 lizards in your hair / Yeah, what do you think they were trying to do there? / 2 lizards in your hair / Maybe it seemed like a good place for sex / If I were a lizard you’re who I’d do next.”
Hmm. It’s hard to tell if that’s meant as a song of seduction, or merely a weird parable about some of Mother Nature’s slinkiest creatures. Regardless, Nourallah makes it a point not too get too entangled in literal meanings despite these seemingly deeper digressions. This is, after all, an album that starts and stops based on seemingly spontaneous impulses, and any change in mood or direction seems directed by a kind of kinetic flow.
It would be tempting to call this a singular masterpiece, because it’s outstanding in every regard, and yet, that would be almost like denigrating its predecessors, all of which are superb without exception. Consider it instead the culmination of a productive career that’s soaring toward a steep pinnacle. And in this case, even belated appreciation is well worth cherishing. An artist of ample prowess, Salim Nourallah can take pride in yet another in a line of outstanding efforts.