Wild Goosechase Expedition

Spottiswoode And His Enemies

Old Soul Records, 2011

http://www.spottiswoode.com

REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 10/28/2011

I’ve always had a soft spot for larger-than-life, over-the-top artistic types—just ask my wife. The only time this had real-world consequences was when I was once impulsive enough to go into business with a trio of rather extreme examples of the species; lesson learned. Leaving that experience aside, though, the appeal remains clear: constant stimulation, endless entertainment, thoroughly unleashed imagination, at-times-riotous fun. 

All of which is to say—to paraphrase my dry wit of a son—“hey there Spottiswoode.”

If you mixed the laconic, cheeky British cool of Ian Hunter with the brooding urbanity of Leonard Cohen, added the balls-out Broadway showmanship of Bat Out Of Hell composer Jim Steinman, and sprinkled it all with the self-deprecating panache of James Bond, you might emerge with Jonathan Spottiswoode’s less interesting twin brother, because he’s clearly more demented than that. 

The latest outing from Spottiswoode & His Enemies, the aptly named Wild Goosechase Expedition, veers off in several directions at once, setting the listener’s musical compass spinning in circles. This troupe of seven makes a noise together that is uniquely their own, a sort of twisted urban folk music full of dry, acerbic wit and fat horn arrangements. And yet, each individual track is remarkably distinct, with its own sound, vibe and rhythms.

Kickoff cut “Beautiful Monday” sets the tone right away with a breezy, sing-songy ode to manic self-confidence: “Beautiful morning / Beautiful day / Beautiful people / On a beautiful train / All goin’ to work now / So du-ti-fully / Beautiful Monday / Beautiful me… Everybody look at me / Take another look at me / I’m beautiful.”  Meanwhile, a rather Van Morrison-esque lilting-guitar arrangement executes a steady build to a horn-aided crescendo that feels completely inevitable. Tunes like the character-defining “Monday” and the seductive, uber-urbane “Just A Word I Use” ooze a kind of easy charm and swagger that’s rare and thoroughly engaging.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

In between that notable pair, you get the playful barroom thumper “Happy Or Not,” the melodramatic, gospel-tinged “Purple River Yellow Sun,” and the alternately smoky and apocalyptic “All In The Past.”  The common thread throughout this memorable opening sequence is that the arrangements are just exquisite. The sheer versatility of the seven-piece Enemies gives Spottiswoode the ability to match each arrangement to the vibe of the song precisely and spectacularly. Each track is its own little painting, with each brushstroke exactly where it should be.

For track number six, Spottiswoode essays the height of romantic sacrifice: “I’d Even Follow You To Philadelphia.”  And plays it up like a barroom weeper, sounding like a cross between Joe Cocker and W.C. Fields. “I’d go through any kind of hell for you / I’d even follow you to Philadelphia.” It’s simply brilliant; how else to describe a song that makes you laugh out loud even as it’s grooving up a storm?

“Sometimes” plays out like a down and dirty Chicago soul-ified version of George Thorogood; J. Geils would love it.  “Chariot” revels in a gorgeous, languorous melody through its latter sections, nicely setting up the curmudgeonly rant that is “All Gone Wrong.” 

“Problem Child” arrives as more or less the polar opposite of the AC/DC song by the same name, with tinkly piano, jazzy brushed drums, and Spottiswoode taking the role of the clueless parents attempting to adore their thoroughly entitled offspring into compliance. “Problem child, please forgive us / We know you’ve been through hell / Remember, we love you…”

From there the album only get more giddily weird. “Happy Where I Am” is a gospel shouter with a fat horn section, and the title track feels a Dixieland band on acid. The terribly British, terribly fatalistic insouciance of “Wake Me When It’s Over” sounds very much like Ian Hunter in one of his sassier moods, declaring with deadpan certainty that “All the great men were just like me / Though most of them were creeps / They made their mark on history / While they were asleep.” 

The closing pair are an interesting duo as well. “Wonderful Surprise” is a smoky barroom ballad with a bit of Sinatra to it; Spottiswoode is nothing if not hip, and this tune positively swings. By contrast, “You Won’t Forget Your Dream” has a suitably dreamy, elegiac quality; it’s perfectly pleasant but does go on a bit as you get into the second half of its 9:07 girth.

By the by, the track listing divides these tunes into four acts, the melodramatic titles of which appear to have little to do with the content of the songs themselves, which carry no detectably consistent narrative. Of course, for an iconoclast like Spottiswoode, this sort of affectation comes off as simply further evidence of attention to detail.

Ultimately, you either get swept up in Spottiswoode’s peculiar yet robust creative vision, or you don’t. Wild Goosechase Expedition is both a big shaggy dog of an album and as sleek as a Maserati. Climb in and take her for a spin, won’t you?

Rating: A-

User Rating: Not Yet Rated


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