For the second month in a row, we’ve got a glam flavoured Album of the Month from Rough Trade. Whilst the June selection of FFS took a road slightly less travelled with the Sparks collaboration and substantial hint of Be-Bop Deluxe and Bill Nelson, Ezra Furman’s album hits the highway with substantial Bowie and Lou Reed influences.
I only first happened upon Ezra recently when he was promoting his new album on Jools Holland’s Later. I have to confess that it passed me by somewhat. The visual image of lipstick and a woman’s dress was arresting but the music sounded a little derivative. Given I can’t quite stay up until midnight anymore, I tend to watch “Later” on iPlayer and whiz through the bits I don’t fancy. I must admit I did the same for Ezra’s second song.
So when the album arrived in the post, I was a little hesitant about unwrapping it.
Happily my pre-conceptions were wrong. Released on Bella Union (Simon Raymonde (ex of the Cocteau Twins) label), Perpetual Motion People arrived in white vinyl. It came with a bonus CD of cover versions of songs by the Replacements, Arcade Fire, LCD Soundsystem, Beck and Melanie.
Bella Union have generally been a reliable source of new music for the last few years. N & I went to fantastic 10th anniversary showcase gig at the Royal Festival Hall in 2007, with Stephanie Dosen and The Dears headlined by Midlake. Paul Weller joined them for a rather wonderful “Young Bride”. We bought a beautiful silk screen print from the gig that we need to find a new home for, since our kitchen refurb.
Anyway, the album shares more than the glam connection with the FFS LP. It’s also great fun. It is highly derivative but it is done very very well. The production though cuts through some of the shrillness that I found off putting on Jools Holland. I do dislike identifying someone by their influences but Ezra appears to be so in thrall to Lou Reed (observant jew who loves doo wop) and Bowie that it is hard to avoid. Bowie’s “Drive In Saturday” is a touchstone for the album. “Can I Sleep” has a lovely take on the “Five Years” introduction drum beat from “Ziggy”.
Ezra’s a difficult one to pin down. In a recent interview for C4 News, he was nervous and uncommunicative for the opening part of the interview but became engaged when the discussion moved on to Ferguson and racism in the US. He refers to his “non traditional gender identity” and his bisexuality whilst wearing red lipstick and a jewish Kippah. Ezra’s awkwardness reminded me of an old interview of David Byrne on the Tube.
A couple of favourites of mine are “Hark! to the Music” and “Haunted Head”, the former of which sounds like something that would fit in with Lindsey Buckingham’s sparer contributions to “Tusk”. It’s short and sweet and has a lovely 50’s retro guitar rhythm. “Haunted Head” would sit comfortably on Bowie’s more recent albums such as “Heathen” and “Reality”. It’s got a lovely baseline and uses some discrete woodwind which harks back to the orchestration from Lou’s “Berlin” album or even “Hunky Dory”.
“Lousy Connection” really encapsulates the album though. It seems to encapsulate Ezra’s place in the world.
“It’s late at night it’s time to tell you my secrets
My personality’s cut up into pieces
Modern society’s my one secret weakness
I’m out of money and I’m out of my mind”
It’s got a lovely retro feel with a parpy brass section.
I’ve had a listen to some of Ezra’s earlier albums since receiving the new one. “Day Of The Dog”, the preceding album from 2013, shows similar influences but has a slightly rawer production but especially has the brass flourishes that crop up on the new albums. Springsteen influences are evident too, especially on “Cherry Lane”. It was preceded by “The Year Of No Returning”, which was his first solo album after leaving his backing band, the Harpoons, behind. It’s a slightly more downbeat affair.
I still don’t enjoy the Jools Holland performance though. The album’s available to buy here.
So not the most original but another fun album via Rough Trade. From what I’ve heard, all of Ezra’s albums show a high quality of writing and performance. The bonus CD of covers is worth a listen as well. His cover of Beck’s “Devil’s Haircut” is pretty faithful to the original. He turns in a really lovely version of “I Can Change” by LCD Soundsystem, removing the electronic pulse of the original and playing as a solo acoustic guitar version.
The standout for me is the Replacement’s “Androgynous”. The Mats song is lovely outsider’s anthem about cross dressing, sexuality and accepting people for what they are. It seems very personal to Ezra for obvious reasons.
I’ve posted a recent version of the original. Mark Westerberg and the boys are sporting a rather fetching plaid shirts and pink skirts combo. Now where did I put the Jean Paul Gaultier kilt?………