Friday, 25 May 2018

2018 Contenders: Better Than Ezra?

My attention always picks up whenever reviewers start comparing a new release with Bruce Springsteen, particularly Born To Run era Boss. To be honest, over the years, I've bought any number of odd records - from Lady Gaga to Lana Del Rey - based on such comparisons, and often found myself scratching my head... though after some immersion, I can usually see what they mean. It's not about sounding like Bruce in most cases, it's about tackling similar themes or creating a similar atmosphere or using a similar storytelling style. I'm sure Dylan fans go through the same process on a regular basis... I wonder how many of them ended up disappointed when they bought Greetings From Asbury Park, N.J. on the back of such comparisons?

Anyway, the lead single from the new Ezra Furman album, Suck The Blood From My Wound, garnered many a "sounds a bit like BTR" nod, so I had to investigate further. The themes are definitely present, with lines such as these easily recalling Bruce and Wendy's fervent desire to break out of New Jersey...

And I'm doing ninety, got to get there and hold him
If we can make it across the state line then baby, we're golden
Let the law pronounce its' petty assertions
They've been outsmarted by a couple of urchins

Park for the night north west of Baton Rouge
Across the parking lot you're stretching the one wing you can move
I let you walk as long as fear will allow
I never loved you more than I love you now

And then we're back on the road before the sun's even up
We're making time, we're making progress
But progress towards what?
Your fallen feathers fill up two shopping bags
The future's breathing down the neck of the past
And the sun throws a shit-eating shine on the moon
And I'm not about to wait for them to come
Suck the blood from my wound

Although the single carries the most obvious Bruce connotations, there are moments on the rest of the album that also lead me to believe Ezra's been channeling the Boss. There's a desperation to his voice that you hear on a lot of Springsteen records, and just like Bruce... well, he's not the best singer. You hear him reaching for notes he probably shouldn't attempt on a number of occasions, and getting by on sheer determination. I've reached the conclusion that I prefer singers who aren't that great at singing, yet succeed despite that. Bruce readily admits this, and nobody would allow Billy Bragg or Elvis Costello or Frank Turner into their church choir, but their voices connect with me in a way many note-perfect performers just don't. I mean, I love James Dean Bradfield, but he makes it look so damned easy. He never breaks a sweat. I think ultimately I prefer artists who have to work for it - and Ezra is definitely pushing himself to the limit on this disc.

Even if you're not a Springsteen aficionado though, there's still plenty to enjoy on Transangelic Exodus. For me, the other major touchstone on this record is Rufus Wainwright. Furman is excellent at bringing the perspective of a young gay man to classic rock song storylines: something we don't often hear. Love You So Bad tackles a typical teenage romance song from this perspective, whereas closing track I Lost My Innocence, lyrically at least, really could be Rufus doing Born To Run...

I looked a real long time
To find the border
Of a kingdom of love, outside the
Reigning order
And I found my angel on a motorcycle
I'm a queer for life
Outlaw, outsider and uh

Most telling of all is the song Compulsive Liar, on which Furman puts his untrustworthiness and gift for fanciful storytelling down to the fact that many young LGBT people teach themselves to lie to the world from a very young age...

And I can trace the habit
To when I was eleven
And I thought boys were pretty
And I couldn't tell no one

And if all that isn't enough to pique your interest in Transangelic Exodus, then may I at least offer that this record must surely contain some of the year's best rhymes? Where else will you find Pasadena rhymed with deus ex machina or Vincent rhymed with innocence, instance, incident, Thin Mints and a pack of Winstons?

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