Bobby Conn's 'Recovery' Is Occasionally Excellent
If Bobby Conn's Recovery were the kind of queer red disco deconstruction that it almost is, it would be excellent, but that's not even half the record's runtime.
20 March 2020
Bobby Conn's new album Recovery has the kind of production and groove that make it very hard to dislike; crunchy glam guitars and female backing vocals always sweeten this kind of record. It's likable too: it has tunes, and it's funny when it feels like it and sometimes it's pretty interesting. However, remember when the Scissor Sisters made a kind of indie-ish fruit-flavored disco in 2003? Well, this is like that, except Conn's been at this since forever, and this is 2020.
The opening makes it seem like the album is going to be some sort of deconstructed disco record, to the point that it could in places be mistaken for the forays into that genre by weirdos like Can. Yet this is potential unfulfilled. The voice-over to "Disposable Future" brings to mind Frank Zappa's Joe's Garage, and its "this is a product" sentiment is pretty dated, though just how dated it's hard to be sure. "We're stuck in the '80s," sings Conn, and I hate to disagree, but it sounds more like we're stuck in that period in the early 2000s when we were stuck in the '80s. Maybe there are too many layers of irony here to process, and Conn is laughing as the listener attempts to distinguish real irony from ironic irony.
Obvious single "Bijou" stays in the early 2000s with its mildly Electric Six-ish attitude to lyrical naughtiness; today, though, using the word "dick" no longer has the same capital. That kind of transgression has an oddly stale quality now: it isn't transgressive, but it is reminiscent of a time when it might have been transgressive. "It used to be so hard…" is not a line that does much more than draw attention to itself today. Put the track on at a party, though, and you can expect people to dance, and it's worth digging up the earlier version on YouTube just to see how much the production on this makes it work. Ironically enough, the term that springs immediately to mind when considering this track is "decent", very decent, even. But if it were just less overt, it could be so much more of a song.
If "I Want a Little Sugar in My Bowl" is a slow grind, lyrically, then this track shoots its load before it even gets going. It's about a recently closed gay porn cinema in Chicago, so maybe it's apt, or maybe the thing should stand on its own without supporting context. Pray to the ghost of Roland Barthes if you're unsure.
Maybe some of this functions in the same way that the lyrics of "I Want Your Love" by Chic do in that they are there to be ignored or so that their familiarity allows the voice to act more like an instrument. The part of that Chic record where they mangle the syntax to fit the rhyme ("your love I ne-ee-eed") is, I think, distracting because of this. Either way, you would have to ignore the spoken word commentary of Conn's new record to do that, which would be downright psychotic.
Maybe if "Brother" and "Bijou" which, shockingly, sound almost gay, make you feel like you might be pushing society's limits by listening to them, then they'll work for you. But for most adults living in this century, it won't matter either way. It might also be a bore that some of "Brother" sounds suspiciously like "Monkey Man" by the Rolling Stones, but that's a whole different deal. These tracks are the best of the album, too, for good or ill.
Whatever the weather, you'll enjoy Conn's company, and while this album's never a bad time, and hell, sometimes it really kicks ass, it's haunted by anachronism, and not necessarily when it means to be. "Good Old Days" is meant to be some Phil Spectorish girl-group thing, complete with "Be My Baby" drums, but it's not much more than that, and that idea seems passe in itself. The track does go all over the place halfway through, admittedly, but not in a good way.
With further irony, "On the Nose" is the most interesting lyrically, partially due to its lyrical ambiguity; the sex disco politics stuff really works, and the way that the insistence of the lyrics is played just a little tongue in cheek is sweet. That segues so well into "Bijou" that you just want to grab your crotch in appreciation. And when Conn really goes full Marxist and starts equating getting fucked with getting fucked on "Always Already", it's genuinely funny. If you like postmodernism, then you'll love Conn singing about the construction of meaning on that track, as well. It gives a neat resolution to "Disposable Future", too.
If this were the kind of queer red disco deconstruction that it almost is, it would be excellent, but that's not even half the record's runtime. There's a quarter-hour stretch in the middle where it almost catches fire, but that's not enough for an album. So play "Bijou" and try to resist dancing, play "Recovery" disingenuously at your dickhead friends, "Brother" if you want to weird out your parents in 1972 and you haven't heard Young Americans in a while. Check out the title track and "Always Already" if like me, you just wish that Conn was just a bit weirder. But do see him live in all his shiny-trousered glory when you can, and maybe also watch Hedwig and the Angry Inch and do poppers in the glow of a lava lamp afterward.