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Friday, October 17, 2014

The Black Crowes: Warpaint

THE BLACK CROWES: WARPAINT (2008)

1) Goodbye Daughters Of The Revolution; 2) Walk Believer Walk; 3) Oh Josephine; 4) Evergreen; 5) We Who See The Deep; 6) Locust Street; 7) Movin' On Down The Line; 8) Wounded Bird; 9) God's Got It; 10) There's Gold In Them Hills; 11) Whoa Mule.

The internal construction of the word warpaint seems to suggest that when you put on this kind of paint, you are expected to go to war. Consequently, when you begin to play an album called Warpaint, you might expect to hear something that could be associated with war-like emotions. You know — aggression, bravado, ferociousness, that sort of thing. And even if you are not a big fan of The Black Crowes, you just know that they are a band well capable of all those emotions. And, in fact, once every few years or so they are even capable of hanging them on a powerful hook, which is where they are at their very best. It's not much, but it's something.

Alas, we have some bad news, folks. Warpaint is not a war-like album — it ain't even a proper rock'n'roll album. Instead, it's a big ol' full-o'-soul album of «Americana» — a melting pot of blues, country, and various forms of hillbilly music, played Black Crowes-style, but without the arrogant cockiness of old. Yes, it's been seven years since their previous studio experience — and in that time, the Robinson brothers have Discovered Wisdom. Now, instead of churning out over­loud headbang fodder, they offer you golden bales of hay straight from the meadows and fields — lying in one of which, with not a care in the world and a pair of headphones around your head, would probably be the perfect setting for enjoying an album like Warpaint. That is, if there actually were anything to enjoy.

The band had suffered further lineup changes along the way, so that by the time they came around to recording this, the newest members were relatively young musicians — children of the Seventies, younger than the Robinson brothers by about a decade: Adam MacDougall on key­boards and Luther Dickinson (of the North Mississippi Allstars) on guitar. Obviously, both are professionals, and the Robinsons went out of their way to praise Dickinson's skills to high hea­vens; problem is, to my ears he just sounds like a faithful disciple of the old school, doing his country-western schtick honestly, but without an ounce of inventiveness. Considering that brother Rich is also no great genius when it comes to composing guitar melodies, it is no big surprise that a large chunk of this album... well, perhaps it does not exactly sound like Garth Brooks, but it feels every bit as tedious and worthless as your average country-pop album.

Every chord sequence tried out here is tired and old. Every vocal melody begs for the single question — why am I wasting time on this? Is there at least one new emotional touch generated here, at least one fresh feeling, rather than just fifty minutes of recycled cud? Neil Young, Little Feat, Lynyrd Skynyrd, The Allmans, Emmylou Harris, The Band, Gram Parsons — is Warpaint adding anything worthwhile to that legacy? Am I supposed to worship at the sight of Chris Ro­binson's beard just because he's aged a little bit, calmed down a bit, found his peace with the world and drowned in earthy sentimentality — or, perhaps, should that require a little more effort in the songwriting department?

I guess that, from a certain point of view, Warpaint could invite comparisons with Exile On Main St.: it seems to trigger the same half-lazy, right-to-the-ways-of-the-world atmosphere. But the difference is that the Stones were actually recording their album on the brink of self-destruc­tion, and its music is permeated with that feeling. Warpaint, in comparison, plays it completely safe and sound. The Black Crowes, as pictured on this record, are a generally happy, healthy, self-sufficient band of individuals who know just what it takes to make the «right» music. "Let's take it easy to avoid any snags", states the opening song, called ʽGoodbye Daughters Of The Re­volutionʼ, and in between that line, that title, and the fact that the rhythm and lead lines of the song are all great in tone and poor in expression, this tells you all you should really know about the album, unless you need your everyday fill of bland Americana like a high fiber diet.

If you are looking for something that «rocks», you won't find a proper choice until track 9, ʽGod's Got Itʼ, and even that one is a fairly repetitive «Christian blues-rock» number (with a touch of irony, I hope), riding on boring muffled rhythm crunch and conventional slide licks. (For that matter, I think that Paul Stacey's production style is at least partially responsible for sucking the life out of these tracks — a different mix, bringing Dickinson's slide guitar higher up, might have somewhat improved the impression). If you are looking for a real soulful, broken-voiced, salt-of-the-earth ballad, check out ʽThere's Gold In Them Hillsʼ. It does not touch my soul one bit, but who knows, it might touch yours. I think it's all a bunch of unimaginative clichés, and I don't think Chris Robinson sounds too convincing when complaining that "all I have left is this grey in my beard" (not that that ain't much — have you seen the size of that beard?), but wasting time on looking for scientific proof of that is not a good idea, so let's just assume I may be wrong.

Anyway, three listens into the album, and nothing ever stuck, which is why I suppose that the songs on Warpaint are fairly worthless unless they are your first exposition to the world of dusty, age-sanctified roots-rock. Then again, I also suppose this is predictable — if The Black Crowes as a young band were third-rate imitators of kick-ass Stones/Aerosmith/Led Zeppelin, then why should The Black Crowes as an old band be anything but third-rate imitators of their rootsy pre­decessors? It all fits. No big surprise here, and a friendly, light-hearted thumbs down all the way down Chris Robinson's beard. 

1 comment:

  1. I completely aggre with you. I just don't understand this album, as mush as the most of the previous stuff they made. The next one, on the other hand, is the major imrovement, both of CD's (well, the second one actually was (is ?) avaliable through online download). But what else I don't understand is why you haven't mentioned "Locust Street", the only song on here that I actually remembered, that got melody and some more or less soulful singing. Maybe it was already tried before, but at least it's good,

    Once again, I must ask you to listen to solo project of Chris Robinson - Chris Robinson Brotherhood. I don't understand most of the Crowes material (basically as you), but albums by his band not only understandable and listenable, but also immensely enjoyable.

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