Charles Douglas Statecraft

[Enabler; 2004]

Rating: 3.5/5

Styles: indie rock, folk pop, singer/songwriter
Others: Jonathan Richman, They Might Be Giants, Daniel Johnston

Charles Douglas' life reads like the plot to a great independent B-movie. He formed and dissolved the band Vegetarian Meat, dropped out of school, went to rehab, had a nervous breakdown, and eventually found gainful employment at Burger King before pilfering the novelty paper crowns after an untimely firing. Plenty of material to draw from when writing an album, but none of it is the focus of Statecraft, and that's a damn shame.

Douglas's fifth album is a sham. It doesn't feel truthful, nor is it as heady as the company he supposedly resembles (Jonathan Richman, Daniel Johnston, Syd Barrett, Jim O'Rourke). The music is nothing more than the rehashing of typical pop and rock. No extraterrestrial connection is made to the listener through song. Each melody takes you to no heavenly plain, no hellish plateau -- the true crime behind an artist who clearly possesses extraordinary stories for recanting, but lacks the forethought to marry it with his musical vision.

The lazy musical approach isn't the only martyr to Douglas' sleepwalking. The lyrics are boring, clinging to the thin line separating metaphorical and blasé. Nowhere in the montage of allusions does Douglas remotely touch base with what the audience craves: tall tales. However, while all this piling up on Statecraft sounds as if the final nails to Charles Douglas's coffin are being pounded, it's not truly the case.

It's rare these days to find an album that has a continuity and unconscious flow such as Statecraft. The tracks are in perfect alignment, building up to the opus of the album's closers. "Chan" is a cute little love letter aimed at (and this is a guess) Chan Marshall, a.k.a. Cat Power. The lyrics are understated, but drive home the point of a boy needing the love and hate only Chan can provide through her multi-faceted personality. The album wraps up with the wistful, yet speedy dirge "The Rabbit Never Gets the Carrot (Part Two)." It's a natural continuation of the love and loss profoundly expressed during the few lamented words of "Chan." Wide-eyed innocence makes an unexpected appearance, saving the album from being nothing short of mediocre.

The ideas are large, the heart even larger, but the vision is a little blurred. Charles Douglas is well on his way to finding his own dirt path to carve, but his story needs to become the center of the universe. Douglas meanders around his madness and his past, and his creation pays the price. We've already been where he's taking us, but we want to go where he's been (at least through song). Perhaps this is just a case of showing us the light before subjecting us to the seedy underbelly of rarely traveled roads. Maybe if we see the end, we'll be ready to join hands and take the journey.

1. Free At Last
2. Crackerjack
3. Ancient Mysteries
4. Blues For Catalina
5. Beneath The Flowers
6. Island, The
7. Splitting The Atom
8. I Don't Care
9. Close To Me
10. Revelation In Chapel Hill
11. Day Of Creation, The
12. Statecraft
13. Take It Off
14. Game Over
15. Chan
16. The Rabbit Never Gets The Carrot, Pt. 2

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