Marc Ribot has been around, working frequently with Tom Waits, John Zorn, and Robert Plant, to name just a few. He's an indisputable American master, and proof of this can be heard everywhere from his phantasmal sound collages of 2001’s Saints and 1996’s Don’t Blame Me -- a brilliant solo record that reinvented standards from Duke Ellington to Albert Ayler -- to the film score for The Departed and his collaborations with the Sun Ra Arkestra. But despite the jack-of-all-genres mentality and his reputation for pushing the musical envelope, Ribot’s latest album, Party Intellectuals, is quite a mess.
This is especially disappointing considering Ribot’s collaborators this time around: Xiu Xiu’s drummer Ches Smith and bassist Shahzad Ismail, who has worked with such artists as Laurie Anderson, Lou Reed, and Nels Cline. Ribot explains this is his first project that’s “not a project,” but a “real band,” even going as far as to suggest that they jam for fun, not just before gigs. Not surprising when you get an album filled with bits of songwriting and mostly directionless jams.
The album starts off fine with the harmless “Break on Through,” indulging in the first of many shameless guitar solos, which is followed by “Party Intellectuals,” the most enjoyable track on the album. Unfortunately the flight through Ribot’s rapidly changing landscape starts to hit a tailspin with “Todo El Mundo Es Kitsch,” a track blatantly aware of its irony but still unrewarding in its spoon-fed samba beat, irksome vocals, and flanged-out guitar. “Girlfriend” is similar in conception and delivery. Ribot whines: “Going out now/ To a restaurant/ I’m not hungry/ With my girlfriend/ She’s really into me/ I don’t like her.” Mildly funny the first time through, Ribot’s gall for stylistic hijinks are far from enduring.
Even on less cloying tracks, like “When We Were Young and We Were Friends,” Ribot only nominally abandons the beat, keeping the meter strongly implied, which doesn't seem to play to his forté considering his free jazz prowess. In fact, it seems to me Ribot is suggesting that the styles he’s so beautifully inverted in the past are either powerless to the beat of rock or completely irreconcilable, the latter of which is evidenced in the inapt noise portions of the record. In the end, Ribot's considerable talents are sadly lost among 12 disjointed tracks that range from out-of-place cacophony to irritating cliché.