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Friday, May 3, 2019

Jerry Harrison: Walk On Water


1) Flying Under Radar; 2) Kick Start; 3) I Donʼt Mind; 4) Confess; 5) Sleep Angel; 6) I Cry For Iran; 7) Never Let It Slip; 8) Cowboyʼs Got To Go; 9) If The Rains Return; 10) Remain Calm; 11) Big Mouth; 12) Facing The Fire; 13) The Doctors Lie.

General verdict: Some decent, if formulaic, genre experiments that have to be captured through a smokescreen of shamefully dated dance-pop.

Since ʽRev It Upʼ became a minor hit, and critical reception of Casual Gods turned out fairly warm, Jerry wasted little time to follow it up with another effort, seemingly in the same vain — this time, basically adopting «Casual Gods» as an official name for his unstable band, and putting even more effort into religious self-aggrandizing with the title Walk On Water for the LP itself. Unfortunately, lightning never struck twice, and whether he did really walk on water or not had no effect on the critics refusing to acknowledge the album as the Second Coming. Both the LP and its lead (and only) single, ʽFlying Under Radarʼ, flopped badly, got ignored or ridiculed by the media, and ultimately led to the cancellation of the solo career of Jerry Harison; most of his musical work post-1990 focused on production for other artists.

The reaction was understandable, but perhaps a tad unfair; personally, I think that Walk On Water is mildly more interesting than Casual Gods, though definitely not to the point where you could ever begin to think «wow, they stomped out Jerryʼs career just when the man finally began to come up with something refreshing for the next decade... such a pity!» However, to share that impression with me it is imperative to get past the first four tracks — the album suffers from really horrible sequencing, where the first 15 minutes are completely given over to very generic, very un-out-standing electropop. As usual, Jerry may have been generously motivated by the likes of Funkadelic and Prince, but the results, with aerobic synths and percussion plastered all over the place, are closer to the lower tier — like those early Alanis Morissette records, long forgotten and disowned even by those who still have fond memories of Jagged Little Pill. That lead single, ʽFlying Under Radarʼ, unfortunately happens to be the first of these four tracks, and its lack of chart success is easily explained by the fact that buyers could choose from a pool of hundreds, if not thousands, in the same vein in 1990.

Once we get past the oh-so-HOT-HOT-HOT groove of ʽConfessʼ, however, things suddenly start to branch out and become progressively more interesting. Firmly within existing genres and patterns, for sure, but not necessarily within the trendiest ones. ʽSleep Angelʼ is a pleasant soul-pop ballad with ringing Smiths-like guitars; ʽNever Let It Slipʼ is a pure optimistic pop-rocker that might have easily been a Little Creatures outtake for all I know; ʽIf The Rains Returnʼ is a weak, but surprising, exercise in sentimental reggae; ʽRemain Calmʼ is a psychedelic instrumen­tal with Near Eastern, Far Eastern, and African elements at the same time, featuring lots of rather delicate polyphonic synthesizer work; ʽBig Mouthʼ is a slightly more thoughtful and inventive take on the electropop vibe, slowing down things just enough to stop making you think about all the favors Jerry must have been currying from club owners.

One particular standout is ʽI Cry For Iranʼ, a long and clearly heartfelt message, though the lyrics are vague to the point of not being able to understand where Harrisonʼs sympathies lie precisely (Iʼd guess this is more of a general lament on the devastation of the Iran-Iraq war, but then again, the lyrics might be using Iran as more of a general metaphor than anything). Like everything else here, it is not a great song and is probably more worthy of, say, Duran Duran than Talking Heads, but its morosely trudging pop-reggae rhythm and quasi-Sufi synth overdubs succeed in weaving an atmosphere of weary desperation. At least as far as political statements go, this one is much more credible than ʽCowboyʼs Got To Goʼ — also rhythmic, but atmospherically bland and barely comprehensible (probably some sort of anti-Bush diatribe, but who really cares now in these Trump-riddled days?).

It also feels good that, all those opening HOT GROOVES aside, Jerry has toned down the gruff macho elements that plagued Casual Gods and never really fit his character, concentrating instead on the image of the quiet dance-pop philosopher — this way, there is very little by way of straightforward objective accusations that you could fling at those songs. Perhaps if he got Byrne to sing on some of them, they could have caught more attention from the public eye; as it is, Walk On Water will just have to wait until a convinced Talking Heads fan will want to subject it to repeated listenings — something that probably occurs with just a slightly higher frequency than Halleyʼs comet. Expendable, but at least he went out with relative grace. 

1 comment:

  1. I don’t think this is as quite as strong as the previous album, but it does have the advantage of being more diverse. I do think this has a few really boring tracks – “If the Rains Return” and the last two. However, I like the three upbeat “groove” tracks, but “I Don’t Mind” and “Big Mouth” add some humor to Jerry’s palette, something the last album definitely lacked. “Remain Calm” sounds more like a world music like those from Shadowfax than psychedelic to me. “Sleep Angel”, “Never Let it Slip”, “I Cry for Iran” and “Cowboy’s Got to Go” get by more by atmosphere and smart lyrics than with hooks, but they’re good. As for “Flying under Radar”, my guess is that Jerry got a notice from his record company that there wasn’t a potential single on the album. So, he teamed up with 80’s hit maker Dan Hartman for this one. It sounds out of place, but it’s is catch and fun, even if Jerry stretched the lyrical metaphor a bit too far.
    Unfortunately, while Jerry was a competent vocalist, he just wasn’t distinctive and forceful enough vocally to make a commercial impact with this one. Too bad. Oh, and the album title wasn’t meant to be, but ironic. The album cover depicts the Exxon Valdez disaster…