Review Summary: I don't want nothin', can't use nothin'
From the first chorus of his opener "(I Know) A Girl Called Johnny," Rowland S. Howard's mission of erotic addiction is made clear. 'She's my narcotic lollipop,' he mutters tiredly, while Jonnine Standish croons about putting her fingers in Johnny's mouth. So it goes for Pop Crimes
, a terse collection of moody post-punk murder ballads, Howard's last before an untimely death.
is a slow seethe of quiescent sleaze, the sort of twilight melancholy that arrives after a youth well-wasted and a middle age spent half in remission and half in the bag. The murky gloom that sips through these songs is only apt since Howard died of liver cancer just a few months after the record's release, waiting on a transplant. That feeling of having one foot slung over the edge is all over Pop Crimes
, and there's a macabre delectability in the way Howard intones on the Talk Talk cover:
Life's what you make it. Don't you hate it.
He's been no stranger to artful ghoulishnes of course, and most every project he's ever taken part in, starting with The Birthday Party and through countless collaborations (Crime and the City Solution, Lydia Lunch etc.), has been marked by the same ghastly pathology. Sinister, wary, and lovingly tacky; cuts like "The Golden Age of Bloodshed," "Wayward Man" and the title track play out like strutting music for Woland from Master and Margarita
, a soundscape for mischief in a tweed coat.
Though it sports its share of dissonance and underhand rawcus, the LP feels more a hangover after a long, gin-soaked lifetime, and like any great weathered cinematic villain in repose, Pop Crimes
' softer aspects like "Ave' Maria" or the cover of Townes Van Zandt's "Nothin'" become moments of tremendously understated beauty.
Despite the fact that Pop Crimes
was only Howard's second solo outing (1999's gorgeous Teenage Snuff Film
is never to be missed), his life-work runs deep and wide. Through tireless partnerings, he's left an indelible imprint on the scene. Still, given how much malignant grace he was able to muster so close to the end, one can only wonder just how much will be left unsung.