Big Swing Face
First Appeared at The Music Box, August 2002, Volume 9, #8
Written by John Metzger
Forget everything you know about Bruce Hornsby. It no longer applies. Of course, this isn’t the first time Hornsby has reinvented himself. After a trio of albums with his band the Range, he gave up his adult contemporary pop life for a jazzier solo career, which spawned its own trilogy of studio albums. But after clearing the decks, per se, with his live release Here Come the Noise Makers, Hornsby reentered the studio, only to emerge with the drastically different sounding Big Swing Face. Gone are the sweeping, majestic piano passages that have long been his signature style. Gone, too, are his vivid story songs. Instead, Hornsby has taken an unexpected turn and embarked on a new road that fuses big-beat electronica with stream-of-consciousness wordplay.
Indeed, much of Big Swing Face has more in common with Moby’s recent endeavors than it does with Hornsby’s past. With its driving rhythms and swirling keyboards, Sticks and Stones serves as a startling introduction to the album, which never strays from its mission of recasting Hornsby’s songs in a new light. And that, it certainly does. The title track begins with a bit of a calypso beat, which in turn becomes a liquid foundation that slowly spins outward like some cosmic, futuristic rendition of the Grateful Dead. And So Out lovingly embraces its ecstatic mantra-like groove before mutating into a giant wall of churning guitars.
Listen long enough, however, and one is apt to discern bits and pieces of a more familiar Hornsby. A jazz fusion jam leaps from the middle of Cartoons & Candy, but slips back into the groove as quickly as it appeared. If stripped of its dance hall sound, the anti-consumerism rant The Good Life would have fit nicely with the songs on A Night on the Town. And, The Chill rides a wave of keyboards and guitar (courtesy of Steve Kimock), offering a hint at Hornsby’s jam band connections. Despite these touchstones, however, Big Swing Face is still likely to come as quite a unsettling shock to Hornsby’s fans. "Got to keep an open mind in these crazy times," he sings on Try Anything Once. These prove to be wise words of advice to anyone daring to follow him on this surprising, but ultimately rewarding journey.
Big Swing Face is available from Barnes & Noble.
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2002 The Music Box