Review Summary: From the mouth of an adult man, these words should feel saccharine; but here in the dulcet tones of Gallo’s high tenor, somehow, they resonate with absolute clarity.
Reviewing an album penned by an actor is a tremendously disorienting task. For me, the most gratifying aspect of music is typically the transmission of thoughts, feelings and catharsis. These experiences are predicated on a presumption of sincerity: that any meaning communicated through words, sounds or stories is inspired by honest and truthful realities. Actors, however, are by definition professionals in deception - so they don’t get the benefit of the doubt. In the past, actors have circumnavigated this problem of authenticity with a hefty dose of self-awareness. Cult classic like William Shatner’s The Transformed Man
and Christopher Lee’s Charlemagne: The Omens of Death
don’t attempt to delineate between acting and reality; they hilariously portray themselves as a character, and the listener is in on the joke. When
, the polarising debut from much-maligned actor Vincent Gallo, makes no such delineations. The album portrays Gallo as equal parts pitiful, lonely and oppressively tragic - and I cannot for the life of me determine if it is a genuine self-reflection or a maudlin, self-absorbed fabrication.
harbours all the aesthetics of an unaccomplished bedroom recording. Gallo’s songwriting is endearingly rudimentary: with bare-bones instrumentation and limited song structure, much of the material here sounds closer to preliminary sketches rather than fully realised songs. In ‘Laura’, two softly strummed chords act as the canvas for Gallo’s idiosyncratic improvisations. Meandering bass lines ebb and flow without any form of pattern or continuity, while fumbling little snippets of skeletal guitar writhe away on the peripheries. As with most things on When
, Gallo chooses to sing the eponymous character’s name seemingly at a whim; his vocals are the most pleasant surprise here, resembling the wonderfully smooth, bell-like crooning of Chet Baker in his prime. ‘Yes I’m Lonely’ borrows further from the sultry lounge jazz of the ‘50s, incorporating a slinky chromatic chord progression and a swinging snare beat that is obviously - though not painfully so - beyond Gallo’s drumming capacity. The song limps forward to the tune of Gallo’s sorrowful mantra (“It could be so nice / So nice / Nice”) until it spontaneously combusts into a soft swirl of feedback and tape hiss.
Several songs on When
are a natural extension of Gallo’s work in arranging soundtracks for films. ‘I Wrote This Song For The Girl Paris Hilton’ and ‘My Beautiful White Dog’ are curious instrumental exercises in stream-of-consciousness improvisation; these visceral collages of sound and texture reveal an uncanny talent for creating oppressive, stark atmospheres. Yet it’s only when Gallo applies this sonically unorthodox approach to traditional forms of songwriting that we’re treated to some legitimately beautiful music. ‘Apple Girl’ is a stripped back ballad, with just a reverb-soaked, Brian Eno-inspired piano supporting Gallo’s gentle crooning. Describing his girlfriend’s addiction with all the starry-eyed simplicity of a child, he sings: “Goodnight, baby / When you think of getting high / I’ll think of nice things to make you smile”. From the mouth of an adult man, these words should
feel saccharine to the point of insincerity; but here in the dulcet tones of Gallo’s high tenor, somehow, they resonate with absolute clarity.