Josh Rouse “Love In The Modern Age” (Yep Roc Records, 2018)

Everything changes, everything stays the same – so Josh Rouse is still writing songs that look at the world from a slightly oblique angle but the soundtrack has changed a little. Strong opener ‘Salton Sea’ throws some funky uptempo synthesizer and chipping guitar into the mix – to create a sound not unlike something from the current release by The Decemberists. Everyone’s playing with their musical palette this year – to different levels of success. That ‘Salton Sea’ has a clear disco groove to it is also not that out of keeping with Josh Rouse’s back catalogue – ‘1972’ you’ll recall was downright funky in a heavy soul way reflective of the year the album snatched its title from. The yacht rock of ‘Ordinary People, Ordinary Lives’ has Rouse in the role of a private dick trailing a couple and photographing them – on observing a lover’s tiff, he turns to wondering what the woman is like in bed and, seemingly on a whim, decides to turn stalker: “I follow them on their way home just something that I do for fun / I’ve been watching for hours through the curtains in their room”.  All of this, naturally, to a relentlessly bouncy synthezised tune with endless drum machine patterns.

Things carry on in the same vein – songs that probably sounded fine as acoustic demos are made into carbon copies of bland eighties soul-pop. Vocoder lines are thrown in on top of squawking saxaphones, synthesized “strings” make a pallid appearance. Keyboards make anemic stabs – no more so than on ‘Businessman’ on which Rouse seems to have made a half-hearted attempt to be Andrew Gold. ‘Women And The Wind’ has a theme as emotionally empty as anything on the album, with a protagonist who happily chirps: “They come and go / The women and the wind / like the sunrise / the to and fro / I thank them to the end / for making me smile”.  It’s all quite depressing when compared to what he can achieve.

What the album could have been is demonstrated on the last song, ‘There Was A Time’ which relies less heavily on drum machines and brings the acoustic guitar more prominently into the mix – it’s a bit like a less grandstanding ABC. It’s a song rejecting the past: “there was a time when one woman just wasn’t enough / one house, one car, one drink, one pill, just wasn’t enough” and looking to a future of singular commitment. Also acting somewhat as a “goodbye to all that” aimed at this imagined eighties lifestyle and the eighties sound and thus a barb thrown at the whole album it is, not surprisingly, the best song on ‘Love In The Modern Age’.

4/10

Summary

Josh Rouse studiously recreates bland dispiriting eighties pop. One has to wonder why.

Author: Jonathan Aird

Sure, I could climb high in a tree, or go to Skye on my holiday. I could be happy. All I really want is the excitement of first hearing The Byrds, the amazement of decades of Dylan's music, or the thrill of seeing a band like The Long Ryders live. That's not much to ask, is it?

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