John Wesley Harding
First Appeared at The Music Box, March 2004, Volume 11, #3
Written by John Metzger
John Wesley Harding has never had a problem crafting a great song, but save for his brilliant masterpiece Awake, he has struggled to create cohesive albums that rise above being simply a collection of disconnected, if otherwise wonderful, tunes. At first glance, his latest effort Adamís Apple appears to suffer from a similar set of circumstances. Upon further examination, however, its 12 disparate pieces begin to fold together, and although it never manages to achieve the narrative properties of Awake, it does successfully congeal into a commentary on the connections between men and women.
From the hedonistic Sluts to the emotional estrangement of Nothing at All, Harding doesnít miss a beat as he relates his allegories via both playful and serious fare. In Sussex Ghost Story, a man is acquitted in the murder of his wife, only to be killed by his new lover; while the protagonist of It Stays is unable to escape the stain of bad relationships. Heavy stuff? Perhaps. But like any great poet, novelist, or screenwriter, Harding consistently has found ways to dig a little deeper into the human spirit. His lyrics provide more than just passing glimpses of life, and they frequently explore concepts that move beyond mere superficial thought.
Still, in the world of rock ínĎ roll, academic and literary aspirations ó or even superb storytelling ability ó arenít terribly notable on their own, and artists must be able to create something that people actually want to hear. Fortunately, thatís never been a problem for Harding either, and on Adamís Apple, he delivers 12 delectable pop confections that go down easy, even as their lyrics haunt. Much like Warren Zanesí Memory Girls, the influence of The Beatlesí weighs heavily upon Hardingís melodies while yanking them through the post-punk psychedelia of Robyn Hitchcock and XTC. Despite the sullen resignation of an affair gone sour that is recounted in Negative Love, the music is positively ebullient, radiating hope when little remains; Protest Protest Protest is gleefully effervescent; and both Sleeper Awake and Itís Hard soar majestically amidst their simple beauty. Originally scheduled for release two years ago, Adamís Apple nearly was lost in the shuffle of a record company reorganization. It was recently reconfigured and re-titled, and has emerged as an even stronger effort. In fact, with the exception of Awake, itís as masterful an outing as any Harding has ever assembled, and given his track record, thatís a rather remarkable thing to behold.
Adam's Apple 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 © 2004 The Music Box