The Hurting Business
Hightone Records, 2000
REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 01/19/2000
Chuck Prophet seems to want the best of both worlds.
On one hand, he knows that he has the chops to be an excellent rock musician and songwriter. On his latest release The Hurting Business, he makes this obvious - even daring to add in a bit of a hip-hop influence with the use of turntables (and, if my ears heard correctly, some well-placed samples).
On the other hand, Prophet seems to want to embrace the musical poetry of roots rock. Not many bands have been able to create such a successful merge - and even when a group like The Jayhawks or The Bottle Rockets have been able to do so, there's always some genre that seems to take a precedence in the music.
In Prophet's case, he definitely keeps his feet planted in the world of rock musically - and, in retrospect, this seems to be the best place for him to be due to his writing and vocal styles. But he does succeed in transcending the usual mental level of rock, and reates some music that challenges the listener to pay attention - just like good roots rock. While this mixture doesn't always succeed on the same levels each time, Prophet stays pretty consistent and ends up with a very enjoyable album.
It doesn't start out looking like a smooth picture. Prophet gets off on rocky ground with "Rise," a track that doesn't seem to know which direction it wants to go in. Fortunately, Prophet is able to get things turned around quickly with the title track, a strange tale about a true love/hate relationship. The thing is, Prophet sings this in such a style that if you're not paying close attention to what he's saying, you will miss the whole point of the song. (I admit I fell in this trap; I had to go back to the CD booket and re-read the lyrics to fully understand.)
Prophet soon proves himself to be a powerful social critic, though he attacks his subject with a backhand rather than an all-out assault. "Apology" dares to show us what crybabies we've become in our lives (and how it can tie in to a relationship), while "Dyin' All Young" has a few different tales of passage wrapped up in a nearly five-minute package.
If Prophet has any weakness, it's that he seems to always meander from whatever subject his songs start out about to some aspect of interpersonal relationships. "It Won't Be Long" seems to start off as a criticism of how the media can capture pictures of someone experiencing the greates pain of their lives - but then twists it back into some non sequiturs that vaguely tie into a love story of sorts ("I like T-Bone Walker / I like my Wonderbread / I like to quote back into your face / All the things you never said"). Other songs that fall into similar traps include "Lucky" and "God's Arms" - tracks that are otherwise very enjoyable.
It's not that Prophet fails with The Hurting Business, but it does occasionally feel like he had a hidden agenda when he was writing for this album, and it kept popping its ugly head out to totally change a song's subject matter. If this one aspect of The Hurting Business could have been corrected, this would be an incredibly powerful album. Instead, it's merely enjoyable - and even there, that ain't too bad.
2000 Christopher Thelen and "The Daily Vault". All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of the record label, and is used for information purposes only.