I really want to love this with every ounce of my being. Stuart Lupton, as most people have forgotten, was lead singer of Jonathan Fire*Eater. While I have vague memories of Fire*Eater while they were together (my friend Trevor telling me that the cassette tape of an early White Stripes show reminded him of JF*E and seeing Wolf Songs for Lambs in cut-out bins for years after its release) I never really got to fully experience them until they were gone. No live bootlegs to be found, no clips on YouTube…it leaves me with a very ideal histrionic view of the band. There hasn’t been anything to fuck up how much I love Jonathan Fire*Eater.That is, until this Child Ballads record.
Really. The Walkmen, consisting of 3/5’s of the Fire*Eater dudes, took the band’s sound in a logical direction without rehashing anything. Apparently even a song like “Little House of Savages” was a melody/chord progression/whatever kicking around back in the Fire*Eater days. But what we get with Lupton and the Child Ballads is deflating.
The title track is choice. Lupton’s unadulterated lift of the coda to Bob Seger’s “Night Moves” is possibly intentional, but nevertheless maintains the sanguine demeanor of the original. These lyrics (reproduced on the back cover of the CD) give a clear view that Lupton’s libretto holds the same vim as back in the JF*E days…
I bought a white chocolate tea in the park on my lunchbreak.
I bought a painting off the street of a haunted lake.
I tried hard to make my world an exciting place.
But I keep hearing talk of the doom,
and they’re sending the meek home.
And that’s not half as bad as the shadow
that’s caught in the hollow of your cheekbone.
But from there the inspired moments become less and less. Maybe he’s just a lyrics and voice man? A role he could play with impunity in Fire*Eater but one that merely exposes weaknesses with limited instrumental accompaniment with Child Ballads?
Because the instrumentation is spare…Lupton on acoustic guitar occasional leads lent by Judah Bauer and some other dude in pure Keef-ian style. Besides that, Betsey Wright on Wurlitzer, Farfisa, viola and vocals…none of which ever fill-out the picture completely. Hugh McIntosh on drums and shakey-cha-cha maracas and whatnot is solid but not enough.
A song like “Green Jewelry” just floats aimlessly in front of your face, starting with a likeable jaunt, but slowly repeating, repeating, repeating until you realize you’re staring at an unfinished idea gussied up to appear “done”. I’m not buying it.Listening to this entire EP is a feat of strength. It’s 27 minutes of a lot of the same acoustic guitar usually reserved for open mic night at the corner coffeehouse. But the lyrics may still grab you. Lupton’s poetry studies at George Washington University have kept him on his toes. If I were in charge, this would’ve been an above-average single with “Cheekbone Hollows” as the a-side and “Laughter From the Rafters” as the flip. As an EP, it fails to keep yer attention. But I believe there is still hope. Hell, Lupton is the one who came up with the name for this damn website. I just stole it. Lord, please let genius befall this man in more palatable ways. Amen.
Dig on the song "Cheekbone Hollows" and try to piece it all together at...