ADAM'S APPLE (Drt) John Wesley Harding
Imagine a man, stuck in an unhappy marriage, who murders his wife, is somehow acquitted of the crime, then moves to a town where nobody knows him, marries again, only to discover over time that his new wife is actually the ghost of his old wife come to take her revenge. Now imagine putting that macabre tale into a two-minute fifty-second song. On the remarkable "Sussex Ghost Story," John Wesley Harding does just that, and does it with suspense, poetry and melodic flair.
His latest album is packed with this kind of skillfully turned, never-heard-a-song-about-that-before pop. "Monkey and His Cat" uses an old-time vaudeville act as a metaphor for the mutual dependency and exploitation of a relationship. "Hard" condenses the history of two people who emerge from a long love affair only to end up as strangers ("We slept through one another's nightmares / Till we forgot what beds are for"). "Protest Protest Protest" is a slightly tongue in cheek look at how out of place the radical hippie would be in today's society ("That negative attitude will get you nowhere"). "Sleeper Awake" finds tender feelings over a coffee grinder, and the should-be-a-hit single "Negative Love" is like a sequel to Marshall Crenshaw's "Cynical Girl"--a song for 21st century misanthropes who still kinda sorta want to bond.
Producers Julian Raymond and Eric Kupper bring a meaty sound to the whole affair, full of tight drums (greats Vinnie Colaiuta and Dave Mattacks are behind the kit), ringing electric guitars and well-placed touches of harmonium and string quartets. It's that kind of sonic Beatle formula that never fails to make you feel warm inside.
Early in his career, John Wesley Harding was dogged by constant comparisons to Elvis Costello (which he only fostered by hiring the Attractions to back him on one album). But this record proves Harding has become his own man, with a unique slant on traditional pop songwriting formulas and a talent that even Elvis Costello might envy. Bill DeMain
our interview with Wes