What year is it again? I thought I was living in 2012, but listening to Mr. Nick Waterhouse’s new LP Time’s All Gone makes me wonder if I’m off by a half-century and we’re really living in the hoary days of 1962, before anyone had ever heard of Lee Harvey Oswald or the Beatles or lysergic acid, like some PKD novel.
Mr. Waterhouse is a musical retroactivist from sunny California who makes music evoking that innocent time, although evoke is perhaps too subtle a word for what’s going on here; more accurately: M. Ward evokes, Mr. Waterhouse recreates. The songs on TAG swing mightily; they’re replete with saxes and pianos and backup singers, and Mr. Waterhouse alternately howls and croons his way through them with aplomb.
The first track, “Say I Wanna Know,” borrows its intro from Van Morrison’s “Moondance” (a move I heartily applaud, being a huge supporter of blatant musical appropriation) and is probably one of the catchier tunes on the album. The other songs are fine as well: they’re mostly in minor keys, mostly bluesy, and generally soulful in a non-threatening manner, although none of them distinguish themselves as singular entities all that successfully, do they, Roberta?
This is where I start to feel like a grump. Maybe it’s just me, but what is the point of this album existing? It’s obvious that Mr. Waterhouse adores pre-Beatles American R & B and draws great inspiration from it, but his making this album could be compared to a painter diligently recreating Hopper’s Nighthawks, or Gus Van Sant remaking Psycho. The analogy fails because Mr. Waterhouse is writing his own material instead of merely covering Otis Rush songs, but perhaps he should have simply done so and made it easier for himself. This is not music that challenges the listener. The Black Keys draw inspiration from a similar era but are careful to subtly meld the old with the new in ways that move the listener into the future without alienating them; TAG is, comparatively, a tractor beam of reaction.
I remind you that I have always said if you’re going to operate within a genre and refuse to innovate, you better make damn sure you’re doing it better than anyone else, and that’s not going on here. Two reasons people were drawn to Amy Winehouse (a name I’m sure Mr. Waterhouse is sick of hearing) were her peerless singing and a handful of spectacular songs; that’s not happening on TAG. I suspect Mr. Waterhouse is holding back for the sake of commercial appeal but his voice sometimes seems curiously restrained; he’s a gifted singer and we would all benefit from more emotional highs in his performances even at the loss of some control.
The songs here are accomplished but there are no standout tracks that demand repeated individual listening. It’s all a little too safe and too Starbucks. Your parents will love it.
I’m not confident I could pick one of Mr. Waterhouse’s songs out of a lineup if it was standing there with a bunch of other period R & B songs, and I suppose that’s something, but I’m not a music historian. I can’t tell the fakes from the real thing well enough to make any money at it. And if the fake is indistinguishable from the real, then who cares, anyway? One Mona Lisa is as good as another from ten feet away. On the other hand, I’m not sure if typing the entirety of Coriolanus into Microsoft word makes you an artist. It does make for good entertainment, though. I’m sending Mr. Waterhouse a book about the Kennedy assassination. Time’s not all gone, Mr. Waterhouse. There are at least fifty more years coming at you, I promise, during which time the American Dream of a half-century ago will become the American Nightmare of today. At least you have the Beatles to look forward to.
Tags: Nick Waterhouse - Time's All Gone, Nick Waterhouse - Time's All Gone album review, Reviews, roberta kellogg