Thursday, June 7, 2012

Analog Man - Joe Walsh - 2012

Writing up 1985's The Confessor, allmusic's James Chrispell proclaimed, "Joe Walsh just hasn't been able to produce a complete album of great material." Twenty-seven years and four albums later, he's still right. With Jeff Lynne at the helm I was somehow hoping for magic and instead I got what was the more likely outcome: a crisp, ├╝ber-clean package of dad-rock straining even for "pretty good" status that I want to like a whole lot more than I do.

Title track "Analog Man" starts out promising enough, with a few bars of Walsh's trademark guitar blazing a trail for his distinctive vocals. The lyric is a tired retread of fish out of water behind the times and immediately dates itself with references to LCD TVs (do you really think 100 channels is a lot nowadays, Joe?) and 10-year-olds who know more about technology than the old farts. It's an unconvincing diatribe and sets the table for an album free of any edges and, too often, looking backward, looking around - anywhere but forward. Sonically, the verse is well-structured, driving and rewarding. The chorus, shifting to a dated, plinky piano piece driven by Lynne, is a disaster, immediately ruining the number. Verse Two improves upon the first with another layer of fat guitar notes intermittently dropping like heavy rain all over the place and then, it's that damn chorus. Yeah, you hate digital. So much so that you recorded your Analog Man album digitally.

In an otherwise great cover piece in May 2012's Guitar World, Walsh defends the digital process on an album that simultaneously yearns for the past, stating "[I found] a digital amp with sampled amp tones. I'd come out of the headphone jack of that amp into a tube recording preamp and into a hard drive. Do that, and the Pro Tools sees tubes." I don't know Pro Tools from garden tools but Analog Man sounds as far away from tubes as anything can be. Jeff Lynne has polished this thing to such a high, sterile sheen that you can practically see the ones and zeroes coming out of the speakers.


"Wrecking Ball" introduces the straight-living preachy side of the record though comes across strong musically but falls short of the bar for Walsh greatness. "Lucky That Way" is a slightly gentler, forgettable remake of "Life's Been Good," wasting the organic slither of Rick Rosas on bass and Walsh brother-in-law Ringo Starr on drums. I was shocked that "Spanish Dancer" was not a Jeff Lynne composition as it reeks of El Dorado outtake material. A bizarre nothing of a song about, simply, a Spanish dancer, it is here that the listener is first treated to some remarkable Walsh guitar histronics coupled with some vocoder work, all fantastic and introduced in a jarring mid-song transition. It literally feels pasted into the center and, as the first sign of inspired vibrancy here, one wishes there were suitable bookends for the first real sign of life on Analog Man.

"The Band Played On" manages to make matters worse via introduction of a sitar and jumps back to hatred of technology (albeit in a song with a credit for "Percussion Programming") and the world in general. Lyrically the song hates on blogs and trots out a few maritime metaphors about the Titanic and icebergs, shit creek and paddles. There's something about "heads up asses" and I am guessing that's where Joe pulled the lyric from as well. The chorus is the strong section here with Joe Vitale's sitar returning for - and ruining - the verses and bridge and I begin to wonder if not only can Joe Walsh not produce a complete album of great material, but is he even capable of a complete great song any longer?


"Family" is the sort of number that, as an older father, I am sure feels good to write and better to play and sing. It's a dull listen, though, and while I cannot deny Walsh the sentiment, it would work a lot better as bedside journal entry than musical composition. "One Day at a Time" is another autobiographical "live clean now" number, played and vocalized entirely by Walsh and Lynne and, while it sounds just fine, it sounds specifically like a just fine Jeff Lynne track and would fit right in with any of the lesser entries from Armchair Theater or Full Moon Fever.

Go figure that a Tim "Rancid" Armstrong demo would end up as the strongest track on Analog Man (and also features Armstrong on guitar). "Hi-Roller Baby" is a laid back, message-free rocking jaunt that reminds one of Walsh's early-career album fodder and it is a damn shame that there aren't a half-dozen other songs of this caliber padding out this record.

"Funk 50." I don't know where this piece of shit came from but it needs to be filed back away with Funks #1-47. In the liner notes Walsh identifies it as a piece created for Sunday NFL Countdown and that makes sense. Its overprocessed, dumb-dumb-dumbed down aesthetic feels about right for a major network sports intro. There is some brief, fiery solo work but it's not worth listening to the other elements of the track to try to appreciate.


"India" kicks off the last quarter of the album and is bizarre. Heavily synthesized, it sounds way, way out of time and then kicks into a guitar firestorm that recalls "Thunderstruck" in some fashion. The album's sole instrumental, it features some of the best guitar work on the record but for a song Walsh describes as "house/trance/remix/DJ/electronica music," it ultimately fails, ruined by uninspired synthesizers and programmed percussion.

"Fishbone" is a fantastic slow-burn blues jam that immediately recalls for me the absolute simplicity of Neil Young & Crazy Horse's similarly themed culinary rumination, "T-Bone" from Re•ac•tor. It is here that one wishes Walsh would back off the message songs and attempts at trends and instead stick with the most basic inspiration. "Fishbone" gets stuck in your head as easily as it does your throat. The album closes, oddly, with a track featuring Little Richard on lead vocal and piano, "But I Try." It's actually pretty damn good and, investigating the liner notes, one can tell why. It's a tape Walsh found of the James Gang jamming with Little Richard from 1970. Proof positive, perhaps, that the Analog Man is not necessarily obsolete, simply just out of juice, sitting on the shelf long past his sell-by date.

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