Let’s be clear, Jim O’Rourke has never stopped putting out records. But it’s been over a decade since he released an album of ‘proper music’ rather than noise/improv/jazz/electroacoustic/drone wonder. But now he’s back on Drag City with an album literally titled Simple Songs! Eight tracks, with lyrics and everything. Be excited.
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Be careful what you wish for. Many of us have spent years hoping and praying Jim O’Rourke would stop all this noise/improv nonsense and get back to making albums as great as ‘Insignificance’ and ‘Eureka’. Now that his first album of songs since 2001 is here it has faced what we could call a mixed response in the office. The first warning I need to give you is that it is ‘dad’.... very ‘dad’. At times it’s as ‘dad’ as Paul Weller, ELO, The Band, and some dark recesses of the Steely Dan back catalogue. All four artists can be heard clearly in the twiddly complex rock presented here. These are anything but ‘simple songs’, they have complicated proggy structures and intricate arrangements. O’Rourke’s voice is kept frustratingly back in the mix whilst the vinyl we are listening to is tinny, trebly and sibilant.
It starts off in fine style with ‘Friends With Benefits’ which staggers along like the best bits of ‘Insignificance’ before gliding into a choral vocal section. So far, it’s just what you’d long hoped for - though the song tends to start chasing it’s own tail as it progresses culminating in a staccato crescendo with screaming guitars. The prickly funk of Field Music is all over ‘That Weekend’ whilst ‘Half Life Crisis’ is as Steely Dan as it’s possible to get without wearing a fez. It’s clever, enjoyable ‘70’s inspired soft rock but like much of the album its tendency to wander off at tangents can easily disconnect the listener though it's closing few minutes are particularly exhilarating.
‘Hotel Blue’ is the first warning shot across the bow that all might not be well, its histrionic balladry comes across closer to Joe Cocker than Tortoise. ‘Last Year’ though exemplifies O’ Rourke’s abilty to make bad sounds sound good - just one bit of DNA away from being Paul Weller but the circular melody is infectious and enjoyable. Closer ‘All Your Love’ however is a full on the Beatles ‘Abbey Road’ slice of ham with a closing string section that could be rejected by Paul McCartney for being too schmaltzy.
O’Rourke is deconstructing ‘70’s rock structures and it’s good to have him back doing that. Thing is, it’s not always that enjoyable to listen to. More listens needed maybe.
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