BLITZEN TRAPPER: AMERICAN GOLDWING (2011)
1) Might Find It Cheap; 2) Fletcher; 3) Love The Way You Walk Away; 4) Your Crying Eyes; 5) My Home Town; 6) Girl In A Coat; 7) American Goldwing; 8) Astronaut; 9) Taking It Easy Too Long; 10) Street Fighting Sun; 11) Stranger In A Strange Land.
The baby might sport pretty facial features and weigh the expected eight or nine pounds, but none of that would matter much if he were stillborn. An uncomfortable metaphor, perhaps, but fully applicable to American Goldwing — the first officially bad album, according to my personal views, that Blitzen Trapper have produced. Bad, as in B-A-D-bad. Not tastelessly bad, not stupidly bad, not annoyingly bad. Just good old bad, that's all.
Once again, just like Furr, the whole venture is an Americana celebration, now flaunted on the front sleeve even more explicitly than it used to be. Once again, the tracks shuffle between acoustic folk balladry, «roots-pop» à la early Wilco, some sludgy stoner proto-metal, and Seventies-style blues-rock. But more than ever before, the band simply embraces all the clichés and formalities of all these styles, instead of at least attempting to reinvent them, or at least marry them to one or two chord sequences that wouldn't be completely, thoroughly safe and predictable.
There is not a single song on here that would linger in my head for even a few minutes after the album is over — simply because there is not a single cell in my brain that would not already be occupied by one or more tenants, once any given song from American Goldwing starts politely knocking on its door. «Go away, ʽGirl In A Coatʼ!», they say, «we'd be happy to let you stay overnight, but the whole floor has already been rented by a Mr. Zimmerman». «Sorry, ʽTaking It Easy Too Longʼ, we just don't see the extra benefits from accommodating you that we have not already received by lending this space to Mr. Willie Nelson». And the list goes on.
The damnedest thing about all of this is, these melodies just sound way too lazy. For ʽMight Find It Cheapʼ, one of the guitarists just reuses a standard old hard rock riff, and the other one plays a slightly more complex, but equally weary ring of acoustic circles around it. The multi-guitar overdubs on ʽFletcherʼ, including a clever move of combining slide guitar with a wah-wah sound, are totally wasted, since they are not structured as a coherent, independent melody. ʽLove The Way You Walk Awayʼ might as well be recorded by a Hank Williams Jr. or any single other by-the-book professional country hack to have come around in the past fifty years. ʽStreet Fighting Sunʼ, although its title bears non-incidental similarity to the Stones, actually rips off the old style of Mountain, without any changes for the better.
In the end, it simply drives me crazy. When these guys started out, they clearly had ambitions — there was never a time in which they were not utterly derivative, but they were tearing that house apart and rebuilding it anew. Now, with what limited critical success and recognition they might have acquired after the success of Wild Mountain Nation and Furr, they seem to have sunk into a sea of mildly ear-pleasing, but utterly forgettable and irrelevant genericity. Sure, Earley's voice is still moderately moving, and I can imagine some people still being interested in what he has to say lyrically (I myself could care less), but, in a way, it only makes American Goldwing ever so more irritating for me, because even the sensible, lyrical heart of this guy is no more different now from the sensible, lyrical hearts of a grand army of roots-rockers.
All I can hope for is eventually getting a confirmation that the album might simply have been rushed out too quickly after Destroyer, for whatever reason (lack of fresh cash flow?). Since it has now been almost two years since then, chances are that, perhaps, for their upcoming new project the Blitzens will finally try out something different, rather than just keep on wallowing in their «heartland» phase. But as of now, a disheartened thumbs down — I fail to see how anybody who doesn't think that all the music in the world should sound like James Taylor could manage to be converted by these stale sounds.
Check "American Goldwing" (CD) on Amazon
Check "American Goldwing" (MP3) on Amazon