Dear lord, we're already at the point where bands from the '90s — wasn't that just yesterday? The '90s? Twenty years, you say? — consist of but one original member plus a handful of session vets. Is Change of Fortune really the work of "Soul Asylum," featuring, as it does, Dave Pirner, no Dan Murphy, and ex-Prince drummer Michael Bland (a capable player, but definitely a "session cat") on the skins?
We'll leave it up to others to argue the semantics of who/who not, as the most interesting thing about Change of Fortune is how bloody good it actually is. The last time I genuinely loved a Soul Asylum record it was pre-Millennium, and their latest, 2012's Delayed Reaction, struck me as thin and weedy. But this one, a work of intriguingly beefy power-pop, may break that streak.
Lead single "Supersonic" is the best bit of radio candy Pirner's written in a dog's age, all restless strumming and weird electronics; "Can't Help It" is like proto-Zeppelin with a wildly funky groove; and even the super-poppy "When I See You" bubbles with a kind of inventive melodic energy.
It ain't perfect — "Ladies Man" is pretty drab and corny, and dear God, "Morgan's Dog" ... I don't know what to make of it ... literally a song about someone shooting a dog — guh? But on Change, the post-everybody Asylum has figured out a credible adult sound. If you're looking for the punk Asylum, they're long dead, but Pirner as a kind of quasi-Cheap Trick is pretty damn interesting.
Proof I'm not paying any damn attention: I didn't even notice when buzz/fuzz psychedelicists Is/Is packed up their bags and relocated to Portland, Oregan, though I did see the press blip when they were forced to change their name (stupid terrorists).
Good news: They seem to be thriving in their new home under their new name, and the just-released New Future is easily their best recorded document thus far. The group's sweet-but-stoned, fuzztone-drenched pop is still intact and their way with melodies is ever improving. Imagine the Dum Dum Girls, but a little more languid and dreamy.
I dig them most when they're at their most throbbing, as on the album kickoff "Wasted View," which sports a pretty melody and some nifty guitar sonics, or on the Beatlesque "Wisdom's Limit," which plies "Paperback Writer"-evoking basslines into a cool piece of psychedelia.
But damned if they don't work almost as well as Cocteau-ish dream pop, too, as on "Forget the Colors," which has enough flanged guitar to make the most avid C-86er damn happy, or the chill "Fired Out," which sounds like the ghost of Luna fluttering through the room. Dammit, we lost a good one, but our loss is Portland's gain.
On which The Man Behind the Keyboard continues his streak of ever-better albums, one after the other. The End Is Not the End is an epic, near-perfect release. It strikes me as the record the Killers have been trying for 15 years to put out, but lack the, dunno, intestines (?) to actually pull off.
It's bright, it's bold, it's full of huge fist-pumping Springsteenian/Nilssonian melodies and arrangements that actually shove at the boundaries a little bit — horns! synths! everything! It's the real deal, folks, full of songwriting and rad performances and virtually zero filler.
Dig "Hologram Jesus," a brash shouter of a track with some Phil Spector sonics; or the edgy, minimalist "Parasite Eyes," which sounds like mid-period Bowie mixed with a touch of Gary Numan for good measure; or the brightly funky leadoff single "Monster Movies," a bang-zoom disco track of the old-school variety.
Inspiration obviously sits somewhere in East Berlin circa the late '70s — you can hear a little Eno, a little Bowie, a little Iggy Pop mixed in with some perfectly cocaine-y radio-pop influences too (shit, even a little 10CC, to be honest). In typical Mallman fashion, it never takes itself too seriously but it takes itself plenty enough seriously, especially given the tragic inspiration behind it.
This is no gag, and the rock vibe is genuinely wild, brash, and wicked. As with all Mallman records, it'll be underrated by the cognoscenti, but don't let yourself miss it, dammit.