Most homespun artists will find a way to work within their limitations to realize their ideas. It seems Dredd Foole (a.k.a. Dan Ireton) has thrived on charging up against those limitations and, short of achieving it, spitting a hoary loogie into transcendence’s unmuddied eyeball. Tone deaf would be the layperson’s assessment after listening to this man sing, especially considering the pretty melodies/elegant arrangements accompanying him. Funny how, back in the punk happy days of 1982, he was properly in his element, depite being a child of the 60s and having an affinity for that era’s folkier sound. Since then, it’s as though he’s courted the murky area between soul-stirring and confounding music to the point where his greater insignificance is a moot point. As with his collaborations with MV & EE, Chasny’s immaculately ornate tones either lend Foole authenticity or throw his occasional gaudy overbearingness into stark relief.
More so than on the previous works I’ve listened to for this review, Foole is fashioning lyrical hooks. Despite some rough attempts at soaring, impassioned trills, the chorus of “The Fear” is rather ingenious: “What do you see? What do you hear? What do you feel? We got the god damn fear!” I’m not sure what he’s singing about specifically, but the sentiment reminds me of every socially awkward crowd I’ve ever been in (mostly at small shows, which he is no doubt familiar with). It would be a classic song even with (or perhaps because of) the iffy vocal, but it doesn’t quite seem to believe in itself. Rather than stick the landing with a final “fear,” he just offers up a lazy man’s cat-in-heat/fire alarm impression. Obviously, the guy’s got a sense of humor about himself, but that humor frequently strikes me as more self-defeating than endearing. However, there is a strong exception to this in “Four Roses for Jack,” a tribute to collaborator and departed friend Jack Rose. The “everything has gone wrong” of the tune’s chorus comes at you in a very real way, making its playfully daft denouement feel more cathartic than irksome. Sometimes it’s good to sing it plain, but the hewing to well-trod sentiments in the face of overwhelming loss can work one into an apoplectically absurd lather.
So while I find his Boredoms-esque mouth mayhem a bit much (to be fair, these are mostly sequestered to two-minute excursions on either side of the album), they feel more inborn than his crude stabs at mellifluousness. Like a lot of things he’s been associated with/influenced, the listener has to meet the music half way. Dredd Foole’s ideas are valid and trenchant, even if they don’t always coalesce into a purely solid track. It’s likely I won’t be the only Six Organs fan initially going wtf at this, but if this review serves any decent purpose, it’s to tell those people that it’s worth sticking with Drunk with Insignificance. One can almost come at it like a Violent Femmes sans the drums/jaunty tempos and more defiance/soul. There’s a lot of depth here, even if the savory quality of Chasny’s guitar contributions might occasionally make one’s thoughts drift elsewhere (School of the Flower comes most to mind). That’s not to say there’s no symbiosis happening between the two. It’s just that this is more Foole’s album than the whalesong reverb king’s. Once you get over this, there’s a decidedly compelling artist to grapple with and a vast history to explore. So far, it’s been a vexing time well spent.