Review Summary: How is he still this good?
Don't get too fooled by the J-Kwon-esque stomp of album opener "Superstars Don't Love" - this is Buck's folkiest album yet, and arguably his most introspective, with Regina Spektor being as important an influence as any other rap act.
Wait, haven't we heard this before? Yes, we have, in reviews for 2005's muted Secret House Against the World
; and for the most part, 20 Odd Years
feels like an attempt to right the wrongs of that album. Fair enough, Secret House
wasn't a bad album at all, but it lacked a little energy, seemed a little directionless, and didn't have any real standouts to match tracks like "The Centaur", "463", and "Wicked & Weird". These weren't fatal flaws, but they were flaws all the same, and 20 Odd Years
sees Buck determined to fix them. Impressively, it also sees him succeeding.
The 1-2 punch on the album, that shows most clearly why this is so much better than Secret House
is "Stop" and "Zombie Delight". "Stop", which features vocals from Juno nominee Hannah Georgas, is probably Buck's most radio-friendly song ever, with a chorus not a million miles from the last two Killers album, yet it crashes suddenly into an electric blues riff that underpins an all-too literal song about a zombie invasion that is a hair's breadth away from using the old 'she only wanted me for my brains' joke. This track is typical Buck, funny and witty and weird, and having it right after the track most likely to alienate his fans makes a huge difference to the way the album flows. Even more importantly, it's one of several touches that means that Buck's own personality always shines through regardless of the material or the mood.
That's the best feature of 20 Odd Years
. Tracks like "Gee Whiz" and "Paper Airplane" could easily have been dirges, but the lyrics are still smart enough to be amusing, or at least interesting - and there's always room for an old school scratch-fest in "Lights Out" or a track like the stylish, sleek, genre-defying "Cold Steel Drum". Then again, sometimes it's hard not just to say that the songs are straight-up better - observe "Who By Fire", which could easily have made it onto the first Mark Lanegan and Isobel Campbell album, or "She Said Yes", a sequel of sorts to Talkin' Honky Blues' "Tired Out". It's always exciting to hear an artist that sounds like they'd succeed no matter what they turned their mind to, and that seems to know it too, and 20 Odd Years
falls into that category as squarely and as surely as Talkin' Honky Blues
did. It's not as good as that album, but that it captures the same thrill is enough. At 39 years of age, 19 years after he debuted, Buck is still on top of his game.