Music

Richard Swift: Richard Swift as Onassis

Spencer Tricker
Photo: Paul Heartfield

While this collection's substance is mostly tangential, it would be unfair to deem it a complete misstep artistically.


Richard Swift

Richard Swift as Onassis

Label: Secretly Canadian
US Release Date: 2008-04-08
UK Release Date: 2008-04-07
Amazon
iTunes

Like an old shoebox recently salvaged from your eccentric Great Aunt’s attic, Richard Swift as Onassis is a mostly random collection of oddities. Very much the anti-concept (double) album, it’s a batch of tracks that undermines expectations at every turn, with tight-lipped jams like “Knee-High Boogie Blues” and “Vandervelde Blues” scrapping like junkyard dogs alongside tape-loop tidbits and some off-hand dub.

Still, the lack of singing on this set is disappointing. Far from fielding interestingly arranged stand-alone instrumentals, many of the songs on Onassis sound as though Swift simply forgot to add vocal tracks. It’s not that he’s incapable of writing great, wordless rock on occasion (see the aforementioned), but there’s a whole lot of filler here too. While there’s definitely an air of curiosity about interludes like “Opt I” (and “Opt II” and “Opt III” for that matter), this curiosity inevitably warps into frustration once you figure out that this is an entire two-cd set of interludes.

With slight exception, this really isn’t much of an exaggeration. For every honest-to-goodness mover (“Sign Language,” “Du(m)b I,” “Phone Coffins”) there’s probably three scuzzy throwaways. The best track is the stormy “The German (Something Came Up)”, in which a greasy Swift growls “She couldn’t meet me ‘cos somethin’ came up,” with all the injured insolence of a 17-year-old. At just 1:35, it’s garage rock gold, reveling in its own crudeness every stomping step of the way.

It’s when Swift expresses this kind of crudeness vocally that he reveals his true talent as a performer. Delivery is a crucial component in bare-bones rock and he can definitely talk the talk with the best of them. Take for instance the ironic “Sign Language”, in which he moans with unwarranted fervor, “Oooohhh, the twenty-seventh of Septembahh!” What’s it mean? Who knows. Does it matter? Of course not.

On “JLH”, a primal screamer that’s apparently devoted to summoning the ghost of John Lee Hooker, he yowls and yelps that gentleman’s name with the kind of twisted intensity that’d do a young John Lennon proud. Likewise with the snarling “Whistle at the Bottom of a Shoe”.

It’s a pity that tunes like these tend to get sucked into the mire of fitful jams that surround them, because there are some truly brilliant sparks of rock ‘n’ roll candor here and there that don’t really get the pride of place they deserve. If Swift had seen fit to cut back on some of the sprawl and done a bit more singing now and then, this might not have been the case, but it is.

Overall, Richard Swift as Onassis is an indulgence. There’s no doubt it’ll spawn a couple of live fan favorites in tracks like “The German (Something Came Up)” and “Sign Language”, but it’s unlikely to be called essential listening by anyone but the most ardent fans. What’s redeeming about this patchy collection, however, is the spirit of Swift’s endeavor, and while its substance is mostly tangential, it would be unfair to deem it a complete misstep artistically.

5


Music


Books


Film


Television


Recent
Music

The 10 Best Experimental Albums of 2015

Music of all kinds are tending toward a consciously experimental direction. Maybe we’re finally getting through to them.

Books

John Lewis, C.T. Vivian, and Their Fellow Freedom Riders Are Celebrated in 'Breach of Peace'

John Lewis and C.T. Vivian were titans of the Civil Rights struggle, but they are far from alone in fighting for change. Eric Etheridge's masterful then-and-now project, Breach of Peace, tells the stories of many of the Freedom Riders.

Music

Unwed Sailor's Johnathon Ford Discusses Their New Album and 20 Years of Music

Johnathon Ford has overseen Unwed Sailor for more than 20 years. The veteran musician shows no sign of letting up with the latest opus, Look Alive.

Jedd Beaudoin
Music

Jazz Trombonist Nick Finzer Creates a 'Cast of Characters'

Jazz trombonist Nick Finzer shines with his compositions on this mainstream jazz sextet release, Cast of Characters.

Music

Datura4 Travel Blues-Rock Roads on 'West Coast Highway Cosmic'

Australian rockers Datura4 take inspiration from the never-ending coastal landscape of their home country to deliver a well-grounded album between blues, hard rock, and psychedelia.

Books

Murder Is Most Factorial in 'Eighth Detective'

Mathematician Alex Pavesi's debut novel, The Eighth Detective, posits mathematical rules defining 'detective fiction'.

Music

Eyedress Sets Emotions Against Shoegaze Backdrops on 'Let's Skip to the Wedding'

Eyedress' Let's Skip to the Wedding is a jaggedly dreamy assemblage of sounds that's both temporally compact and imaginatively expansive, all wrapped in vintage shoegaze ephemera.

Film

Of Purges and Prescience: On David France's LGBTQ Documentary, 'Welcome to Chechnya'

The ongoing persecution of LGBTQ individuals in Chechnya, or anywhere in the world, should come as no surprise, or "amazement". It's a motif undergirding the history of civil society that certain people will always be identified for extermination.

Television

Padma Lakshmi's 'Taste the Nation' Questions What, Exactly, Is American Food

Can food alone undo centuries of anti-immigrant policies that are ingrained in the fabric of the American nation? Padma Lakshmi's Taste the Nation certainly tries.

Film

Performing Race in James Whale's 'Show Boat'

There's a song performed in James Whale's musical, Show Boat, wherein race is revealed as a set of variegated and contradictory performances, signals to others, a manner of being seen and a manner of remaining hidden, and it isn't "Old Man River".

Music

The Greyboy Allstars Rise Up to Help America Come Together with 'Como De Allstars'

If America could come together as one nation under a groove, Karl Denson & the Greyboy Allstars would be leading candidates of musical unity with their funky new album, Como De Allstars.

Music

The Beatles' 'Help!' Redefined How Personal Popular Music Could Be 55 Years Ago

Help! is the record on which the Beatles really started to investigate just how much they could get away with. The album was released 55 years ago this week, and it's the kick-off to our new "All Things Reconsidered" series.

Music

Porridge Radio's Mercury Prize-Nominated 'Every Bad' Is a Wonderful Epistemological Nightmare

With Every Bad, Porridge Radio seduce us with the vulnerability and existential confusion of Dana Margolin's deathly beautiful lyricism interweaved with alluring pop melodies.

Music

​​Beyoncé's 'Black Is King' Builds Identity From Afrofuturism

Beyoncé's Black Is King's reliance on Afrofuturism recuperates the film from Disney's clutches while reclaiming Black excellence.

Reading Pandemics

Colonial Pandemics and Indigenous Futurism in Louise Erdrich and Gerald Vizenor

From a non-Native perspective, COVID-19 may be experienced as an unexpected and unprecedented catastrophe. Yet from a Native perspective, this current catastrophe links to a longer history that is synonymous with European colonization.

Music

John Fullbright Salutes Leon Russell with "If the Shoe Fits" (premiere + interview)

John Fullbright and other Tulsa musicians decamped to Leon Russell's defunct studio for a four-day session that's a tribute to Dwight Twilley, Hoyt Axton, the Gap Band and more. Hear Fullbright's take on Russell's "If The Shoe Fits".

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews

Features
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.