You'll probably know this gent through his respected band, Grant Lee Buffalo, a combo that pleased the critics but didn't show anywhere nearly as well in the marketplace as most expected it to. Given the extremely high pleasure factor drenching this solo release, that's a bit of a poser, a tad difficult to explain. As a bittersweet balladeer, Phillips' voice is a shed tear singing, his arrangements emotionally moving in Micky Newberry-ish fashion; had, that is, Newberry found his inspiration in the best of the punk / New Wave movement sifted through Impressionist billows.
A selection of the apogees of that period are the sole criterion here and, if you're a fan of tribute/covers discs, it's a monster. Frankly, I go gaga over most such anthologies but rarely are they crafted with such an affecting degree of interpretation, immediately obvious when hearing Phillips' take on The Psychedelic Furs' Love My Way, a slowed-down vamp tearing the wistfulness of the original away from its high-gloss base to expose a far more personal insight, redistilling the broken romance somewhat lost in the speedier Furs exposure. Ditto the Cure's Boys Don't Cry, which retains it echoing wistfulness, now clothed in a fabric of debilitating pain, tattery habiliment sporting exposed veins anxious to flee the healing sun and brood.
Perhaps the most astonishing element, a factor missed by most crits, is the incredibly dextrous instrumental backing, 99% supplied by Phillips himself, a demonstration of a single musician fully understanding a wealth of sonic voices and how each must divorce itself from personally voiced riffery in order to matrix every song correctly. In Nineteeneighties, practically every note is Phillips, an exercise in the shedding of self-indulgence to service atmosphere and meaning over vainglory. The result is brilliant, achieving a remarkable sympathy for its broadness. Normally, one-man bands are disastrous; not so here, not by leagues and leagues.
You'll also hear material by R.E.M., the Pixies, Nick Cave, and others, extremely well chosen, fitting together like segments in an plaintively uplifted street opera. The disc shuts down with a powerfully downbeat symphonic take on the Smiths' Last Night I Dreamed Somebody Loved Me, guaranteed to leave the listener pensive at the very least, most probably on the verge of choked-back tears. Short, dreamy, and transcendent, but riddled with doubt and angst, it provides coda, reflection, and closure all in one.
Released mid-2006, it's inexplicable that at least one of these cuts didn't make the charts - no, check that, it's sinful! For some time now, the corporate music industry has been displaying its constipatedly concrete ears and, far worse, its tin Hitlers—suited demons in banking roles throttlng art for gelt—and the outfall can be seen when a disc like this has to content itself to struggle to reach people who should normally be flooded with it. The next time you head out for an anti-war demonstration, take a quick side excursion to hurl a brick through any major label's plush office windows, letting the bastards get at least a brief idea of our aesthetic discontent. Then pass by Rounder's offices and salute. As I also noted about Stephan Crump's Rosetta, had I heard Nineteeneighties in due time, it would've made my elsewhere-posted list of the top CDs of 2006, and very righteously so.
Edited by: David N. Pyles
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