The year is 20-something-or-other and our post-apocalyptic world has been reverted to some sort of martial state out of an Ayn Rand novel. The Gestapo of the future pull a not-quite-dead-yet David Bowie in front of a closed tribunal, charged with corrupting the youth of the twentieth century through subversive sonic activity. The charge? Making crap like prog and art rock fun by fusing them with kickass Marc Bolan-style glam rock and changing popular music irreparably.
It's the perfect premise for a concept record, really. Obviously it'll one-up Styx, being glam rock all the way and, like all concept albums, it'll succeed by addressing an outlandish and trivial issue which nonetheless invites parallels with important political issues of the day, the exploration of which the other forty minutes of the record will dedicated to. Prog-tastic. And this is before
the aliens have landed (pinball wizards from Mars, naturally).
And, give or take a couple of minor alterations, that's Butch Walker's third solo album. The Rise and Fall of Butch Walker and the Let's-Go-Out-Tonites
is a loose sort of concept record, styled on the equally thin narrative of David Bowie's The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust...
. It treats sparingly of ills of rock n' roll excess from his own recent experiences as a Hollywood almost-hipster. His recent experiences, it should be noted, include partying with the finest pop stars of our day, from Paris Hilton back to Paris Hilton again via Lindsay Lohan, so this oughtta be good.
Through a variety of styles, mostly power pop and glam rock, Walker lifts the lid on the seedy undercurrent of life in Hollywood in between lusty rockers like 'Hot Girls In Good Moods' and the type of witty-observant power-pop he's modelled his career on, 'Too Famous To Get Fully Dressed'. Conveniently, with all the styles on offer, he's sectioned them all off, opening with bombastic classic glam cuts and ending with a trio of relaxed folk/country-inspired numbers. While this does give much of the record a sort of progressive touch, it does feel like the closing numbers were merely clumped together at the end so as not to disturb the flow, a cop out of sorts.
The frst (glam) side is easily the superior half. Following the closely harmonised oohs and aahs of the opening number, Butch pays tribute the founding fathers of glam rock with three successive cuts. 'Hot Girls In Good Moods' echoes T. Rex both instrumentally and melodically with a fuzzy, repetitious one-string guitar riff and theatrical canned backing vocals. 'Ladies and Gentlemen... the Let's-Go-Out-Tonites' pays tribute to Bowie and his inspiration Mott The Hoople, while 'Bethamphetamine (Pretty, Pretty)' plays like an outtake from Lou Reed's Transformer
. Cuts like 'Too Young to Get Fully Dressed' and the heartreaking 'Dominoes' are no less theatrical, the latter could easily be pulled from a 1970s Broadway musical.
'Bethamphetamine' is the album's lead single, perhaps unsurprising as it cops the riff from another hit dating back twenty years- Sinéad O'Connor's breakthrough single 'Mandinka' (from the sensational The Lion and the Cobra
). The video features a surprise appearance from Avril Lavigne, as the girl in question (she's pretty strung out for a girl), and Walker's half-sneering, half-affectionate vocal sums the mood perfectly. How great would it be to see sleaze back on the charts in the '00s?
Still, after such a rip-roaring opening, Butch can be forgiven for losing some momentum. Less forgivable, however, is the obvious drop in quality. 'Song Without a Chorus', a duet with rock n' soul diva Pink, and 'This is the Sweetest Little Song' are charmingly titled ('We're All Going Down' had the best working title of all, tragically dropped- 'I Woke Up With This In My Head') but far less interesting than promised. 'Song Without a Chorus' meanders around breaking into chorus with much forced rhyming, while 'This is the Sweetest Little Song' could as accurately be descibed as the 'creepiest little song,' a view not entirely discouraged by the tongue-in-cheek but far from sweet lyric, 'I laid on you and your naked body looked just like I wanted it to.'
'Rich People Die Unhappy' isn't much better. The first all-out country song Walker has done (though it's always been an influence, ever since he debuted southern hair rock band Southgang), it twangs like a motherfuc
ker but not even the tasteful lap steel licks can compensate for a duff tune and bland delivery. It has nothing on album highlight and closer 'When Canyons Ruled the City'. Here, a slow-rapped narrative visits several characters from LA's seedy underclass (including San Fernando, immortalised on Left of Self-Centered
), but the real treat is the chorus, a tasty, summery three-part melodic duel which is destined for sing-along status. Likewise, 'Paid to Get Excited' recalls the Marvelous 3 with one of the most intelligent (that is to say, non-specific) anti-Bush songs in recent memory, with acidic lines like '[be] free to like the land you live on, not the one who leads' and 'he wants to love another man, he'll tell you that it's bad/cuz some book that set the moral codes is glamourised in ads.'
Butch Walker collects influences like women (or, just as likely, like Butch Walker) collect shoes: he's got far too many already, he picks up more every time he goes out, he keeps them all long after they've gone out of style and he definitely doesn't have the wardrobe to pull them all off effectively. What he does have, however, is a keen ear for a good melody and a good sound, whether invented or borrowed. More to the point, he's obviously a big music fan and it's reflected in the artists he chooses to pay tribute to with his music, and it's a tribute to him that he manages to fit these influences around his music instead of merely imitating. If the all-round quality was slightly higher, this album could be a classic; as it stands, it's more instantly likable than his previous two outings but less thrilling overall.