Black Fingernails, Red Wine
First Appeared in The Music Box, February 2008, Volume 15, #2
Written by Melissa Stroh
Thu February 28, 2008, 06:30 AM CST
Considering how anonymous its name sounds, listeners might not expect much from Australia’s Eskimo Joe. They, however, would be wrong. With Black Fingernails, Red Wine, the trio has released a substantial follow-up to its earlier successes: 2001’s Gold and 2004’s A Song Is a City. Although the boys have amassed a solid base of fans in their homeland — both of their previous endeavors debuted at the top of the Australian charts — the question remains: Does Eskimo Joe have enough of an appeal to reach a broader audience?
Black Fingernails, Red Wine offers a surprising response. Beginning slowly with an unyielding haziness, Comfort You — the collection’s opening track — is a fog of static-y sounds through which Eskimo Joe sings, "I will come/Come to comfort you." Although the initial sequence might frighten some listeners away, it’s worth hanging around to hear the next tune New York. Combining an interesting use of instruments with a story of drunken debauchery in the Big Apple, while also exuding an overall air of regret, the cut has all of the necessary ingredients for making a hit single. It also suitably completes the hung-over feeling of the previous song.
Nevertheless, although the group has proven that it knows how to craft a good tune, Eskimo Joe also sneaked a few downright bad ones into mix, too. For instance, Black Fingernails, Red Wine’s laughable title track is too punctual and rigid. When taken in conjunction with its overly simplistic lyrics — "Black fingernails, red wine/I wanna make you all mine" — the album goes downhill quickly. Although the ensemble tries to validate itself later by turning toward lyrics that are more thought-provoking, the damage has been done.
As with most albums these days, if there’s going to be a problem, it’s going to be placed right smack in the middle of the set. In other words, the central portion of Black Fingernails, Red Wine is a make-it-or-break-it proposition for Eskimo Joe. Fortunately, the group pulls itself together to unleash the tragic longing of London Bombs. Everyone’s a sucker for a good story and a solid piano line, and as if it were right on cue, this is precisely what Eskimo Joe delivers.
Black Fingernails, Red Wine concludes with the emotional How Does It Feel. Although Eskimo Joe’s lyrics, once again, are overly simplistic, the way in which the group delivers them is so moving that its passion can’t be denied. Overall, Eskimo Joe knows how to craft a good album, though it still hasn’t figured out how to make a great one.
Black Fingernails, Red Wine is available from
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2008 The Music Box