BLITZEN TRAPPER: FURR (2008)
1) Sleepytime In The Western World; 2) Gold For Bread; 3) Furr; 4) God & Suicide; 5) Fire & Fast Bullets; 6) Saturday Nite; 7) Black River Killer; 8) Not Your Lover; 9) Love U; 10) War On Machines; 11) Stolen Shoes & A Rifle; 12) Echo / Always On / EZ Con; 13) Lady On The Water.
Big critical success here, but I am not all that impressed. Too rootsy! Not enough rock'n'roll! With the exception of one or two big-scale numbers, Furr is almost yer average camping album — and I am sure that few people are more qualified to write wildlife camping albums than a bunch of gifted sons of authentic Oregon trappers, but there is not enough inventiveness running through their veins to turn Furr into the next John Wesley Harding, or into one of those classic John Prine or Willie Nelson albums.
The title track is suitably «nice», but does not really do justice to Eric Earley's songwriting talents: just a basic country-pop acoustic shuffle with a derivative vocal melody. His warm vocal tone is always welcome, and the metaphorically Mowgli-like story in the lyrics is original enough, but truly and verily, many people sing these kinds of stories, few are capable of making them stick. Writing and recording a song like ʽFurrʼ, to me, seems a bit like winning in a local songwriting contest — the basic requirements are met, the clichés successfully worked around without losing an atmosphere of authenticity, the resulting grade is A+, and now off you go to continue with your dayjob at the local sheet metal factory.
That Blitzen Trapper are capable of more than just «making the grade» is clearly seen from the other single, ʽBlack River Killerʼ. Technically, it is just another acoustic folk tune, with a darker overtone this time, as the title already suggests, but this time, with a poppier hook in the chorus, and a moody «theremin-synth» line in between the verses to spice up the atmosphere. Of course, it is always easier to write a «sticky» dark song than a happy one (most of us are easier drawn to gruesome tales of serial killers than to simple stories of settling down to raise a family), but the darkness itself does not account for the special catchiness of the chorus or that particularly gloomy synthesizer flourish.
Unfortunately, such flourishes are rare on Furr. With a pretty piano ballad like ʽNot Your Loverʼ, you could hope for at least a small bit of musical development throughout the album, yet there is none, and I am not just going to fall over for lines like "Cause I'm a moonwalkin' cowboy, dusty ridin' / And I don't know what's in store" if they are simply accompanied with a pretty (but whiny) voice and one finger on a piano. Lazy! Get out of bed!
Yes, there are a few upbeat pop tunes here, fattened with wailing electric guitar and other ingredients, but after the opening successful punch of ʽSleepytime In The Western Worldʼ, with its organ leads and amateurishly eccentric guitar pyrotechnics, something like ʽSaturday Niteʼ, very similar in terms of upbeat-ness, is already nowhere near impressive. Nor is ʽWar On Machinesʼ, where they take the same stomp and change the time signature just a bit, to let in some barroom-rock atmosphere. But it's the same multitracked acoustic guitars all over again. ʽLove Uʼ, a slowly crawling «screamfest», is certainly different — but not very good, as far as I am concerned. (Eric is not a professional screamer at all).
So, if Blitzen Trapper in general are a good band, very occasionally being put through to a straight line with God, Furr is the album that shows all of their limitations. Earley's strength is in his diversity: no matter if each individual song is not Beatle-quality, there are so many of them done in so many different ways that the cumulative effect is disarming the critic. Furr, on the other hand, is an attempt at creating something semi-conceptual, a 21st century look at the rudiments of two hundred years' time, and its tighter focus is at the same time its Achilles' heel. I have nothing against these guys employing roots-rock elements in their music — but I never asked them to go ahead and «reinvent» roots-rock as such for me. If I want rootsy, I just go and put me on some Robbie Robertson. A disappointing thumbs down here — which should not prevent neither you nor myself from easily enjoying ʽBlack River Killerʼ.
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