Like a shark, albeit in a $5 dress and red lipstick, Ezra Furman's gotta keep on movin'.
"They'll never pin me down in the pages like a bug / Never classify me; don't try / I want to be freeee!" warns Ezra Furman during the admirably demented "Wobbly". It's one of many highlights on this transient tunesmith's sixth set and encapsulates much of the feverish genre-hoppin' therein. Rock 'n' Roll. Doo wop. Beatnik shimmy shake. Thin White Duke cool. College rock. Jazz hand showtunes. Moonshine country. Southern fried spirituals. Furman races through 'em all like he's been asked to showcase the history of music to an alien in just 43 minutes. It's dazzling, dizzying and yes quite exhausting, to the point where the only thing you can pin down with any certainty is that Furman has undeniable talent.
Perpetual Motion People is a spirited celebration of the Rock 'n' Roll misfit and a toast to the 'Freak Unique' although its troubled heart yearns for comfort and connection. Thus it's a manic depressive experience too torn between 'heroic extrovert' and 'defeated introvert'. Bravado versus bereavement. The stronger first half focusses firmly on the former. The hyperactive "Restless Year" high-kicks like a sideshow showdown between Jack White and Austin Powers with Furman barking out anarchy anecdotes like a 'fire and brimstone' preacher, "DEATH is my former employer! / DEATH is my own Tom Sawyer!". There are kitschy 1960s organs, double-Dutch percussion, rubber-necked guitars, sunstroked "ooh la ooh" harmonies and Ezra's magic cocktail for success: a $5 dress and a bus pass. "Lousy Connection" is all Tower of Power horns, fingersnaps, flicked strings, Spector sparkle and hella "Shoobee! Shoo doo!". With tragicomic timing Furman unveils a Bukowski-Burroughs slumdog soliloquy of syringes, blue lipstick and bugs in the hinges 'til he's "All fucking mumbles". A song so marvelously melodramatic it deserves one of James Brown's underpaid stooges to throw a cape over it and escort it offstage. "I want the universe! / God knows I've been patient!" it demands not unreasonably.
The show-off must go on! "Hark! to the Music" is the Monkees covering R.E.M.'s "It's the End of the World". For Sesame Street. In 90 seconds. Yet it shares the Joker's strychnine grin, "Crawl outta your holes / You little roaches!" The aforementioned ode to oddness "Wobbly" channels a youthful David Byrne resplendent in a straitjacket and queuing for his morning meds. Possibly as Nurse Ratched electric boogaloos just out of shot. Hilariously upbeat, its infectious frivolity proves futile to resist. It pole vaults somewhere over the rainbow before a split screen dials in a comedy devil cursing beneath an actual shit cloud, "I don't want to stay down here!" Majestic album highlight "Haunted Head" finds Furman further at the crossroads betwixt hope and despair. A soulboy sibling of Bowie's debonair "Sound & Vision" but, y'know, sung naked and alone behind closed curtains in a hot fog of cigarettes and whisky. "I was born this way / I'll die this way" it laments before throwing its "Arms around the toilet like a long lost chum". It'd be devastating were it not for the divine melody, slick groove and the gently soothing harmonies. When God finally sends salvation in the form of 'Guardian Angel' Tim Sandusky's celestial sax solo "Haunted" becomes one of 2015's most transcendental moments. Run to the light folks.
Heaven or hell? The second half of Perpetual Motion People flips anxiously back and forth between the two with the results being similarly up 'n' down. The Pearly Gates remain the better destination. Up there is a survivalist bruiser that burns like the Pixies ("Tip of a Match") and a funky gospel rouser worthy of the Flaming Lips ("Can I Sleep In Your Brain?"). Better still the dapper dandy "Body Was Made" parades with all the preening peacock plumage of vintage Marc Bolan. "My body was made so just fuckin' relax!" struts Furman with freakpower finesse. Elsewhere the contagious ants-in-yer-pants, boogie woogie of "Pot Holes" brings the sting with some sharp social satire. Furman mocks the soulless suits paranoia of the Southside where there are "Black men sleeping on your white concrete". There's more to Perpetual Motion People than "bow dowdow doop di doo" but hey, that's important too.
It's mostly on the down low that Perpetual Motion People gets slightly, well, "Wobbly", veering too bluntly towards pastiche. The midnight mourner "Hour of Deepest Need" waltzes so snugly around Harvest Moon-era Neil Young or Gram Parson's own "In My Hour of Darkness" it ends up stepping on their toes. Dusty brushed drums, the sheltering solace of stand-up bass and a piano with keys like chipped, cigarette-stained teeth. It's saved by some striking imagery though, "The porch light draws the horseflies to their fate". "Watch You Go By" delivers more booze hound nostalgia. This time Furman's channelling John Lennon at his most wistfully bereft. "I've got a bright future in music as long as I never find true happiness" it pines archly under teardrop acoustics. The hymnal "One Day I Will Sin No More" is sweet enough if overly familiar. Picture Daniel Johnston singing "Kumbaya". Almost too classic. "I'm sick of this record already" spits the Randy Newman-esque "Ordinary Life" in riposte. The best of the down crowd, it rises from its urchin origins to a Phoenix crescendo. "Stay alive!" it commands before offering a final 'live long and prosper' handshake of "ditty bop, sha-lang lang!". Message received and yes, fuck "Beauty".
Try as it might to avoid your grasp, Perpetual Motion People is worth holding on to. Ezra Furman is a 'star' in the good, old-fashioned sense. A talent with personality who's obsessive yet empathetic, sincerely strange and "One of us" if not quite "One of us". People's plethora of costume changes means not everything fits perfectly - 2013's Day of the Dog arguably remains Furman's finest, but it certainly throws another half-dozen truly great songs into the traveling man's knapsack. This elusive entertainer remains still very much on the run.