King for a Day
When it comes to matters of mass humanity and their motivations for what they do, I consistently vote Newtonian - our excesses can largely be chalked up to pressures behind us, resulting in the final burst when the flimsy seal is broken. Its how volcanoes work, how wars work and toothpaste as well. I'm sure old Kurt Vonnegut could offer a much deeper and wittier variant/correction to this, but he is gone now, so it goes. We must now muddle along now that our last Mark Twain has sunk in the murky ether, with no help from the grand scale avoidants Eggers, Pynchon and Wallace. For a quiet cold moment, satire is dead along with Vonnegut, and with out that blanket on us, we are quivering under life's chill. We are helpless to succumb to its pressures. This is a momentary condition, just as pressures build up, they recede in reflexive frequency. And we can shiver in our beds, or rise up and act and as raconteur-cm-motivational speaker Bobby Conn puts it, "to raise your fist and PUNCH THE SKY."
Our music is as much a product of the big pressures as our politics, and Bobby Conn's CD conveniently wedges in as a balm on this dark hour. Bobby Conn is a tough nut to crack. As with all drag-theatre-oriented art, I'm not sure where the line between honest revelry and deconstruction lies, and that's why it works for me. It certainly isn't the show tunes aspect of it. The Hindenburg of Conn's stage ego gets hyper-inflated on King of a Day, and elaborate rock opera of vanity and hubris that is as much Ziggy Stardust as it is Meat Loaf, as much King Crimson as it is Cheap Trick. And all of these things wrap up in the conundrum of Queen, who lights this candle. "Vanitas" opens with a gong and bongos, ascending up through a snaky wisteria of violin and smoky Steve Miller band atmospherics to a choir, then on to an avalanche of a power riff, all in Latin for dramatic effect. It works rather flawlessly. Conn, the self proclaimed Antichrist, becomes Jesus Christ Superstar in a breathtaking 8-minute transformation.
It's a glorious start for our revolution. But like any march, we have a couple missteps at first, namely "When the Money's Gone" which is one of those corny retro AM cabaret tracks that similarly mar Destroyer's otherwise flawless records. A friend was recently trying to sell me on the contemporary saliency of Supertamp's Breakfast in America, particularly in reference to me throwing The Shins under the bus, and I hold his child up as evidence of the crimes of the parent. But this tableau is a variety show, and the title track that follows rights things directly. Conn has a velvet swagger and an innate sense of soft rock orchestration that is perfect in its sheen. "A Glimpse of Paradise" is the kind of mock exotica that might accompany the footage of our airplane traversing the map to the insouciant shores of "Love Let Me Down," maybe the real showcase song of the album. He has prince falsetto and sense of the baroque that builds up into a confectionary hypnotic prog ending, segueing perfectly into the intricate Crimson red guitar and violin workout "Sinking Ship." Delicious stuff.
"Twenty-One" has that mock jazz thing these soft rock guys can't seem to shake, but his refactored Steve Miller groove is what saves this and many of the tracks on this records. "Punch the Sky" is a theatrical aside, his voice delivering his semi-ironic motivational speech a "Born in the USA" bombast coming to a head when he yells "PUNCH THE SKY!" and leaps full-frock into The Big Number "Anybody." I picture sequins, ice-skaters, fireworks, and lots of hats when I hear this overblown extravaganza of a song.
"(I'm Through With) My Ego" is a slinky Le Jazz Hot vamp, "Mr. Lucky" an autumnal keyboard figure with female vocals pitting life as details of the stage, and the final track "Things" is a fabulous piano confessional - one of those i-ain't-done-yet things that usually make me throw up in my mouth a little when I see Liza Minnelli do it during pledge week on my PBS affiliate , but it works when Conn applies his painterly touch and slight post-rock analytical distance to it. That's how this record strikes me - I almost want to deplore it but his delivery, his drive, his revolutionary sprit bleeds through it like bleach spilt on the flag. Part of me wants to say I can't recommend it, but the rest of me proclaims that Bobby Conn cannot be denied. Either way, the pressure is on.
Alex V. Cook listens to everything and writes about most of it. His latest book, the snappily titled Louisiana Saturday Night: Looking for a Good Time in South Louisiana's Juke Joints, Honky-Tonks, and Dance Halls is an odyssey from the backwoods bars and small-town dives to the swampside dance halls and converted clapboard barns of a Louisiana Saturday Night. Don't leave Heathrow without it. His first book Darkness Racket and Twang is available from SideCartel. The full effect can be had at alex v cook.com