Orbison. What about Chris Isaak? Well. all of the above, plus a disturbing penchant for suits that even Jonathan Ross would think twice about lifting from the wardrobe. The colourful gear is a giveaway, actually, as far as Isaak is concerned. It‘s symptomatic of the vibrant, amiable approach to his art which makes the Californian-born singer/songwriter more than just an early 60s pastiche, more than just the Orbison clone his detractors believe him to be.
He‘s certainly an attractive figure. Physically, he’s got the 505 teen-idol looks that Orbison never did, roughed up a bit by way of a rugged, lived-in profile which (along with his height and build) is testimony to his former career as a boxer. Visually, he‘s a cross between Fabian or Ricky Nelson and Mickey Rourke’s punch-drunk Johnny Favourite in Homeboy. Personality-wise, he‘s also got it. Out-presenting the presenters of The Word (not so difficult, really) and matching the aforementioned Mr Ross point for point in the irony stakes, Isaak‘s seasoned wit — in his late 30s, he‘s no spring chicken — and nonchalant charm have been a treat to view during his recent round ofTV appearances. His eagerness to strap on an out-of-tune acoustic and rattle out live renditions of ‘Wicked Game‘ at every opportunity is a further indication ofthe genuine, unaffected nature of his character. The man‘s a natural.
People may be forgiven for
thinking that Wicked Game— the current LP from which ‘Wicked Game‘ and ‘Blue Hotel’ are lifted- is Chris Isaak‘s debut. In fact, it is his fourth album. More precisely, Wicked Game is a ‘greatest hits’ package, culled from the previous three collections— Silvertone, Chris Isaak and Heart Shaped World (all now deleted and, therefore, collector’s items) — released between 1985 and 1989. Contrary to popular opinion, fame has not arrived in the form of overnight success for this San Franciscan. He formed his backing band. The Silvertones, in 1981 and signed to Warner Brothers two years later. During the 80s came constant touring and the three critically acclaimed but poorly selling albums. Ofequal importance to his future, Isaak also became acquainted with film director David Lynch. Asked to star in Lynch‘s classic Blue Velvet, the singer turned the offer down (cool or what?) Jonathan Demme‘s offer to play a psychopath in Something Wild was also declined , but he did undertake a cameo as a ‘fast food killer‘ in Demme‘s Married To The Mob. The big break finally came, however, with the inclusion of the beautiful, crying guitar-lick from ‘Wicked Game‘ in last year‘s Lynch work, WildAt Heart. The vocal version of the track was released as a single on the back of the film‘s success and gave the Silvertones a Top Ten hit. The follow up, ‘Blue Hotel‘. matched the acclaim and, before you could say ‘blue heart‘ (both words are included in every
Chris Isaak: living in a heart-shaped world.
Isaak composition -— check for yourself), Chris Isaak became a celebrity. This man has cooked in Rusty Lee’s Breakfast Time kitchen and even presented the award for Best Classical Recording (l) at the recent BPI ceremony. Fame at last. But will Isaak‘s talent sustain his impact and allow his appeal to endure? Roy Orbison stayed in the public view for 25 years and. after a lull in the late 705, was at the peak of his stardom when he died in 1989. Will Isaak enjoy a career of comparable length“? Well, it‘s looking good at the moment. The current LP shows considerable strength in depth — songs simple of melody but deep ofemotion. He‘s already been described, by John Fogerty no less, as ‘probably the best songwriter in the USA today‘, and the astute mix of kitsch and classicism, self-effacement and magnetic charisma that Isaak brings both to vinyl and to live performance certainly augurs well for the ‘sensitive New Man‘ 90s. Love him. and he‘s intelligently reworking late-50$ angst through the intriguing persona of the matinee crooner; loathe him, and he‘s just an Orbison-Vallance retread, a cabaret joke that won't be funny for long. Whatever. a fine, rare blend of mischiefand maturity, Chris Isaak is certainly an enigma, and a gorgeous one at that. The suits might just be a mistake, though. Only time will tell. Chris Isaak plays The Queen 's Hall, Edinburgh on Sun 3 and The Pavilion, Glasgow on M0114.
I Nova Moll: Admiral Oi The Sea 9010th Trade) The title track stands up to the standards set by Grant Hart's debut LP Intolerance, but, as might be surmised from the dropping of Hart‘s own name, this three-chord wonder has more of a crackling band feel to it. We also get a remix of the above song, two alternative versions of tracks from the upcoming Last Days of Pompeii concept LP (neither of which raise anticipation of its release to fever pitch) and their rendition of ‘I Just Want To Make Love To You’, an oddity culled from their last tour. An odds-and-ends job. (AM) I Crime And The City Solution: The Dolphinxkntl The Shark: (Mute) This gently remixed version of a standout track from last September‘s Paradise Discotheque album has the half-Australian, half-Gennan mood~mongers in typically enigmatic form. Begins in a Doors-ish vein before settling on an atmosphere of intense longing, dark desire — akin to Joy Division‘s ‘Autosuggestion’ or Nick Cave‘s ‘The Mercy Seat‘. Painfully articulate, it's a tremendous and captivating record, the best of the year so far. (PWH)
I Joan Annalrading: Love And Affection (remix) (A&N) A ‘remix' trailer for the forthcoming Best Of. . . album, and at least they've not shoved the ‘funky drummer‘ beat onto it. In fact, after repeated listens, I‘m damned if I can detect any difference from the original. It was always a good song, but re-releasing it doesn't make it any better. Like, pointless. (PWH)
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I Ned's Atomic Dustbin: Happy (Furtiva) ‘Happy‘ is the consummate expression ofthe Neds‘ dog-cared philosophy: if it‘sup. it‘s kicking.
But optimism has its drawbacks. How do you top the nigh-anthemic ‘Kill Your Television‘ or the magnificent tempo-juggling ‘Until You Find Out', for example? The day is approaching when Ned‘s Atomic Dustbin will release a slightly less than inspirational single. Fortunately. it‘s not today. (FS)
The List 22 February - 7 March 1991 29