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Reid Paley / Revival / Emusic (2000)


AUDIO: A Bang and a Whimper
You know what's missing from most singer/songwriter records these days? Anger. It's not always enough to bemoan what the world's done, express your self-doubts and whine about the ones that got away. Sometimes you've got to break that bourbon bottle right at the neck, pick it up and wave it around the room. If you're wild-eyed and seething with rage, hitting the liquor and in the mood to spout a few curse words, Revival is just what you need. Look here's a test. Does a song with the chorus, "After all that we've been through / I even wrote this song for you...fuck you!" strike a chord? You're ready.

Reid Paley is a black-suited, gravel-voiced New Yorker who's putting the rage back into old-time music. If you've heard of him, it's most likely because of his relationship with Frank Black, who gave him an opening slot on the Black Letter Days tour and who covered Paley's "Take What You Want" on the B-side to his "Everything Is New" single. Moreover, Black compatriot Eric Drew Feldman plays accordion, organ and "ghostly calliope" on Revival, and also produced the album. The relationship goes way back; Paley's old band, The Five, once toured with the Pixies.

Paley's music is a good fit with recent FB and the Catholics work, hitting the same hard blues chords and pounding the same rock-oriented beats. With a bit of amplification, most of the songs on Revival could be slotted right into Black Letter Days and no one would say a word. The delivery, though, is far more stripped down and basic, with hard, simple beats and dramatic pauses for reflection. Paley's scratchy growl often draws comparisons to Tom Waits, and yes, both pursue a skewed traditional style with crazed intensity. Still, there's something a bit more elemental about Paley -- and then there's the liquor thing. Almost every song on Revival has a drink in it, from the needed "a little something for the pain" of "The Anesthetist's Song" to the wistful elegance of "Never Drink Alone", to belligerent howl of "don't push my drink away" in "Sal's Last Round". Revival soaks its grievances in alcohol, letting them fester in baroque and poetic ways, and setting them to rollicking barroom stomps.

So, you're saying, Paley's mad and he's drunk; what exactly do you like about him? He is also brutally honest, intelligent and quite funny. "A Bang and a Whimper", my favorite song on Revival, cross-references cosmological theory, after-the-break-up sex and murder/suicide, all from the slightly foggy perspective of an alcohol-soaked ex-boyfriend.

There aren't a lot of happy songs on Revival, but "Never Drink Alone" is surely one of the saddest. It's a bombed-out wreck of piano-embellished bitterness, perfect for the small hours when whatever's gone wrong in your life has suddenly stopped pinging around in your skull. Paley sings verses like "I've said everything that I've wanted to say / I've had it / I've done it / I did it every day / I've shut up the world / but it won't go away / and I've seen all I wanted to see / and it's starting to creep up on me," and all you can do is nod your head.

Even when love goes right in Paley's songs -- or as right as it can go -- there's still a price to pay. You can see an Ironweed kind of mutually beneficial relationship in "This Fucking Town", where the singer and his girlfriend could be reasonably happy -- yet the very fact of happiness seems uncomfortable. It is the girlfriend who anchors the speaking character to his dead-end situation, though perhaps not very strongly, and the chorus -- "And though you will say you are going away / you keep me hanging around / and I'm still here in this fucking town" -- is as sad as the ones about relationships gone wrong.

I saw Paley open for Frank Black a couple of years ago, and he is, if anything, more caustic and corrosive live than on this record. What I remember most clearly about that evening was that his drummer, James Murray, had to repeatedly tighten the drum heads between songs. It wasn't that he was doing anything fast or complicated, just hitting the beat so hard that it stretched the hide. That's what Paley does -- simple forms hit so hard by passion, intelligence and humor that they stretch into something surreal. Sure, he probably has anger management issues, but so do you, so do I. Next time you want to smash something, get yourself a stiff shot of brown liquor and put on Revival. You'll feel better, I promise.

-- Jennifer Kelly

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