Ain't you the prettiest thing from Georgia
This Angeleno airport ever saw
Baby blue suitcase from your granddad
New tattoo above your bra
It starts with a bitter sweet doo-wop number and ends with a dark lament for the death of an alcoholic veteran, in-between times we run the gamut of small town adolescence, sex, regret and romance. Welcome to Butch Walker Cassette Backs, I have been spending days here recently.
You know Butch, whether from his stint in SouthGang and Marvelous 3, or as producer for the likes of Pink, The Donnas, Avril Lavigne, Fall Out Boy, Bowling For Soup and Katy Perry; me, I know him from a slew of great intelligent rockin’ tracks I stumbled across like ‘Bethamphetamine (Pretty Pretty)’ and the awesome ‘Summer of ’89’.
So I smiled when I spotted Cassette Backs, a RSD 2016 release limited to 1000 copies. It is a stripped back affair recorded by Butch on a 1980’s Teac 244 4-track cassette multitrack recorder. I like it when artists go back to basics, there is no hiding; you have to really have the songs or you end up just swinging your chipolata in the wind. Butch has the songs.
Cassette Backs features two pared-down tracks from the 2015 LP Stay Gold* and six others. What strikes me about these tracks is just how smooth and well-produced they sound given what they were made on, that’s talent, right there.
There is an ancient Welsh saying that ‘He or she who does not love doo-wop, can piss right off because they simply lack the capacity for joy in their cold flinty hearts’. True story. I agree with it entirely and as a result I love opener ‘It’s Gotta Get Easier’, a soaring lovelorn lament which is every bit as contradictory and lovely as it sounds. Mr Walker hitting the falsetto just so.
‘Jamie’, the only song which is not played totally solely, is a more straight-forward rock popper, exuberant and fun, with a great guitar solo. ‘Wilder In The Heart’, the track I pilfered the opening lyric quote from is a doozy that throws in a nifty guitar quote from GNR’s ‘Patience’. It’s a pessimistic ditty about getting older and watching passion bleed out of a relationship, inevitably. There’s a great line about how he felt about her back when his favourite band still wrote songs he liked.
‘Bad Friends’ sounds like Springsteen and Billy Joel in a loose moment, I like it but it sounds inconsequential stacked up against some of the other lumber here, nice multi-tracked guitar though. ‘Stay Gold’ is a real solid track, Walker sings it like his life depended on it. A snapshot of growing up in a small town with all the boredom and excitement that brings, hanging with friends getting up to no good and dreaming of something bigger and much golder. I have to say this version is far better here than on Stay Gold, he sings it like it hurts him.
Cassette Backs gives us the picture of a stripper falling over dancing to a Bon Jovi song wearing overalls. That the song that contains it, the shuffling ‘Smoke And Mirrors’, manages to be both funny and poignant is no mean feat, chucking a Pet Shop Boys line in takes it even further up the river of my affections.
Butch Walker cleaves close to Springsteen’s ‘I’m On Fire’ for the brilliant, bitter ‘Did We Ever Really Fall In Love’. I love everything about this, the beat and the swearing in particular – you have to love a man putting down his old love’s new flame.
Cassette Backs ends on a sad note with ‘Roll Me Out’ a drunken vet’s tale well told and sung with real compassion. It’s a tearjerker, even though the protagonist doesn’t want that. Man, we may even be encroaching on country music here.
I think Cassette Backs is a great record and a really good introduction to the many guises and considerable talents of Butch Walker. Not bad for a mini LP at all, which is I should add, a format I’ve always liked. Now if you will be kind enough to excuse me I am off to get a new tattoo above my bra.
PS: Because we’re worth it:
*which was an LP that didn’t do it for me compared to his previous stuff.