ALAN PRICE: METROPOLITAN MAN (1975)
1) Papers; 2) Fools Gold; 3) Nobody Can; 4) A Little Inch; 5) Changing Partners; 6) Mama Divine; 7) Too Many People; 8) Keep On Rollin'; 9) It's Not Easy; 10) Sweet P; 11) The Drinker's Curse.
The relative success of Between Today & Yesterday made Alan invest in an attempt to repeat the same approach, but on a slightly humbler scale — this, too, is largely a conceptual, and this time an even more personal album about the past and the present, but lacking the elements of grandeur that may have appealed to the «progressively trained» buyers in 1974. Actually, it is this low-key attitude that may explain why its predecessor sold reasonably well, whereas Metropolitan Man seems to have bombed, and even in retrospect remains totally obscure (not even a measly review at the All-Music Guide!) When in reality it is every bit as good as its predecessor and maybe even better — at least in terms of consistency.
The fact that there are no grand, stately compositions here in the vein of ʽJarrow Songʼ or ʽBetween Today And Yesterdayʼ might even be positive, because Mr. Price, with his passion for homely pubs, quiet provincial life, and cozy vaudeville, is far from your poster boy for Grand Statements — he has neither the compositional nor the vocal talent for that. But he'd honed his compositional and vocal talents well enough to ensure that Metropolitan Man has not a single bad, or, more precisely, not a single unattractive song on it. It's a wonderful combination of diverse melodies, stretching across several distinct genres, tasteful arrangements, clever lyrics, and a rainbow of joyful sadness and optimistic melancholy that arches all the way from Tyneside to Randy Newman's Brooklyn.
Song-by-song, it might easily be his single best set. Even if the man never succeeded in inventing his own sub-genre or anything, here he excels at practically every genre. On the dynamic side, ʽPapersʼ is a brilliantly multi-layered power-pop piece, with an ecstatic slide guitar lead part ruling over a bedrock of pianos, synthesizers, and brass as the man himself launches into a biting condemnation of the yellow press; ʽNobody Canʼ is somewhat of a musical and lyrical answer to Elton's ʽCrocodile Rockʼ, every bit as catchy as the latter but not as superficially corny; and ʽChanging Partnersʼ is a hilariously loving parody on Fifties' rock'n'roll, with Alan going all Jerry Lee Lewis on the piano, mock-stadium applause mixed in for «authenticity», and the guitar man going expectedly batshit crazy on the solo.
Things are subtler and much more moving on the ballad side — ʽFool's Goldʼ, at the least, should have been a classic, with a really choking chord change introduced in the long solo organ intro and then reprised in the vocal melody; this is, once again, Price taking a lesson from the sad side of Paul McCartney and Badfinger, and matching it to his own memories and experiences accumulated during his musical career. For ʽA Little Inchʼ, his lead guitarist, whoever he is, borrows the «weeping slide» style of George Harrison and uses it admirably in combination with Alan's own weepy tale of an unsuccessful love affair. Even the orchestrated schmaltz-pop of ʽIt's Not Easyʼ creeps under your skin, by means of Price's weak, gently trembling voice.
In addition to all that, you get a fun calypso romp with a supercatchy chorus (ʽMama Divineʼ), a tight, slightly Exile On Main Street-ish R&B/gospel groove riding a cooler-than-hell bassline (ʽToo Many Peopleʼ), a dark New Orleanian blues shuffle with swampy harmonica (ʽKeep On Rollin'ʼ), a 100% Randy Newman rip-off that should by all means be reserved for some future Pixar movie (ʽSweet Pʼ), and a plaintive «me and my piano» coda that should, of course, be played by the pianist late at night when the only clients left at the bar are those unable to leave the place on all fours (ʽThe Drinker's Curseʼ). Lascivious, spiritual, ominous, empathetic, depressed but unyielding — there's your emotional variety contained in this little bunch alone, and there's more: the album brings a whole new dimension to the understanding of what it is to be a true «metropolitan man».
Why this whole thing is not considered a timeless classic is understandable — a low-key personality like Price, without a lot of brazenly original ideas, is not going to attract a lot of attention. Why the album is so completely neglected is a different question — even though it has been released on CD, I don't exactly see lost treasure hunters flocking towards it in sufficient numbers. In such situations, even a measly, but strong thumbs up on a «maverick review blog» can be of a little help, and we here at Only Solitaire are happy to provide, particularly since most of us, I'm sure, will find an easy way to relate to at least parts of this record.