Sturgill Simpson: Sound & Fury (Elektra) | Under the Radar - Music Magazine
Thursday, October 17th, 2019  

Sturgill Simpson

Sound & Fury

Elektra

Oct 09, 2019 Web Exclusive Bookmark and Share


It's been a minute since we last heard from Sturgill Simpson on his genre busting, award winning, and outstanding A Sailor's Guide to Earth. Truly off the radar, particularly musically, Simpson reemerged with a George Jones sound alike deep country cut—the title track to Jim Jarmusch's The Dead Don't Die. Shortly after, word of Simpson's fourth album, Sound & Fury, surfaced along with first single "Sing Along." As many have noted, the song recalls the early '80s synth fueled boogie rock that vaulted ZZ Top into the MTV stratosphere. Not only that, Simpson's blistering guitar work shows that long-time sideman Laur Joamets is hardly missed.

The space boogie stylings dominate the first half of the album, with Simpson's fat guitar leads not just recalling Billy Gibbons, but also tinged with a razor sharp center in places à la David Gilmour. The first vocal track, "Remember to Breathe" has a gritty pulse and its "lay back and let it happen" chorus invokes a tone-deaf comment of an earlier era. Though the hurtling title track deals with a broken relationship, most of the balance of the album contends with Simpson's well-documented and jealously guarded outsider status. Of the other rockers here, "A Good Look" deals squarely with Simpson's detractors and "Last Man Standing" is another defiant fist shaker. By the time of the fiery "Fastest Horse In Town," which showcases Simpson's best lead, the "puttin' it to the man" trope is more than a little long in the tooth.

Fortunately, the handful of spots where Simpson comes up with some fresh musical ideas help to buoy the vitriol spewed over the rest of the album's course. Interestingly, the best songs here are also the most lyrically caustic, but the tonal break in the action makes all the difference. The lower powered "Make Art Not Friends" has some Elliot Easton-styled pulses and muscular synths, but Simpson's dejected tone and declaration "think I'm gonna just stay home" makes for more of a human moment. 

Sticking with the retro references, but infinitely more creative, "All Said and Done" mixes a spaced-out Pink Floyd backdrop with a keyboard line devilishly ripped from a page of The Brothers Johnson's "Strawberry Letter 23." It should be noted that Bobby Emmett on keys/synths more than earns his spot in the proceedings. The best cut of all here, "Mercury in Retrograde," has chock-a-block drum machines mixing with hyperkinetic calypso synths for a more tongue-in-cheek swipe at the industry types. If the Mercury reference is to the defunct music label, that's made ever more sly given Sound & Fury is on a recently revived label itself.  Simpson also buries a line here that he used just two songs before as if to prove his exasperated point: "its all been done two or three times anyway." Fairly safe to say that a gem like "Mercury in Retrograde" hasn't been uncovered before.        

In spite of his time away, Simpson seems to have a Hatfield and McCoy never forget memory of just how much it is he hates the music industry. Those that know his history probably didn't need the reminder nearly four years on. Certainly Simpson has earned his credibility stripes to do whatever he pleases, but over the course of Sound & Fury, he just can't seem to shake that "fuck all y'all season" feeling that he cites on "Last Man Standing."  The album's highlights are marked with push the envelope creativity and a passionate delivery, but the endless industry bashing wears a bit thin. But if you focus on hearing the music instead of listening to all the grousing Sound & Fury is a bracing ride. Ironically, the accompanying Netflix film is dedicated to the victims of senseless violence, which doesn't seem to come through in the songs and apparently it's okay to stick it to the corporate baddies that get theirs in the end. (www.sturgillsimpson.com)

Author rating: 7/10

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Average reader rating: 9/10



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