Although twenty years doesn't sound like such a long period of time in the grand scheme of things, it should be noted that, in the year 1994, digital music was still being bought on compact discs, watching a then-current movie involved actually getting into one's automobile and driving to the local theater, Pluto was still a planet, and, perhaps most importantly, fans of the Star Wars franchise still had a full half decade to go before being introduced to the less than universally-loved character of Jar Jar Binks.
1994 was also the year that members of the Steve Taylor fan base sat in eager expectation for a follow-up to his critically-lauded 1993 Squint album. The wait, as most of those same devotees will testify, turned out to be significantly longer than originally anticipated. But even though Taylor spent the rest of the '90s and the entirety of the '00s without a solo effort to his credit, he hardly sat idle. Indeed, if anything, he was busier than ever, starting up the short-lived mainstream rock act, Chagall Guevara; producing and writing lyrics for artists like Sixpence None the Richer, Guardian and The Newsboys; starting his own record label (Squint Entertainment); and embarking a career as a full-time feature film director (The Second Chance, Blue Like Jazz).
Here, though, a full 21 years later, the proverbial long winter of discontent is finally over, as Taylor - backed by guitarist Jimmy Abegg (A Ragamuffin Band), bassist John Mark Painter (Fleming & John) and drummer Peter Furler (Newsboys) - once again steps up to the microphone on what can only be described as one of the freshest breaths of air in recent memory. Indeed, rather than adopting the now-familiar wall of metal that most listeners now associate with the rock genre or the pop/worship favored by virtually every artist on the Inspirational Top 10, Taylor and his like-minded band mates have crafted an effort that, while unmistakably rock-oriented in its demeanor, owes very little to that which is currently popular in the music world today.
The absolutely revitalizing leadoff cut, "Only a Ride," is pure Taylor: passionate vocals, biting lyrical insight, raw guitar riffs and an undeniable swagger that just about any Stones fan would appreciate. The heavily-reverbed guitar work of "Double Negative," on the other hand is blessed with a mesmerizing rockabilly-by-way-of-Duane-Eddy vibe that render it an engrossing, quirky masterpiece. "A Life Preserved" is late-'80s/early-'90s alt-pop at its finest. "Standing in Line" sounds like a long-lost (and very impressive) artifact from the '80s new wave movement. And "Rubberneck" features the kind of rapid-fire vocal delivery and infectiously terse rhythms that any punk revivalist band worth their salt would do well to study in depth.
Taylor's lyric writing skills have always been one of his strongest suits, and the intervening years between Squint and Goliath have done little to dim his proficiency in that department. "Only a Ride" ("Are we not on a holiday?/Aren't we entitled to thrills?/Didn't we pay to be entertained?/I signed a waiver that kills") cleverly challenges the widely-held notion of all entertainment being harmless fun. "Rubberneck" ("You've got a right to know/ Every ugly detail/ Get it retail/ Ready tell") lays out an equally barbed treatise on society's captivation with the sensational. And, lest he be thought of as merely a bitter older songwriter with a chip on his shoulder, Taylor shows that he is more than willing to turn the microscope upon himself, as the beautiful, gut-level honesty of the re-recorded cut that debuted on the Blue Like Jazz soundtrack, "A Life Preserved" ("Gratitude's too cheap a word for all you've reassembled/ A spirit broken and unnerved/ A life preserved"), so convincingly proves.
For all of its musical energy and lyrical insight, the strongest selling point of the record is arguably the manner in which Taylor is able to evoke memories of so many disparate styles of music while still sounding so thoroughly unique and contemporary at the same time. Likewise, any stones that would-be critics might tend to lob in the general direction of the new record - Furler's overly soft drum sound, tracks like "Goliath" and "Moonshot" paling next to their harder-rocking cohorts, the fact that Taylor's voice still remains an acquired taste - arguably speak more to listener preference than they do to any actual intrinsic deficit in the latest album. Indeed, once these trifling arguments are laid to rest, what listeners are left with is quite simply a riveting, superbly-crafted work that, when it's all said and done, might just be Taylor's finest effort to date.- Review date: 11/13/14, written by Bert Gangl of Jesusfreakhideout.com
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