Album: Four One Five Two
Comments: Let’s get one thing out of the way right now. Sundowner is a one man singer / songwriter side project of Chris McCaughan, who is known for his work in punk bands like the Broadways and The Lawrence Arms. As a matter of fact, McCaughan is the lead guitarist and co-song writer for the Lawrence Arms. I only mention this because I am a big fan of the Lawrence Arms, and if my review seems sympathetic or biased, it is because I was unable to detach my feelings.
That being said, Four One Five Two is a good, if not great record and serves to further prove what listeners have always suspected about Chris McCaughan; he was always a singer / songwriter at heart.
Four One Five Two came about while McCaughan was recording Oh! Calcutta! with the Lawrence Arms. McCaughan wrote a bunch of songs that didn’t fit on the album, so when TLA went out on tour, McCaughan would warm up by playing these songs at coffee houses and other places where acoustic guitars and emoting lyrics are welcome. The gigs were so well received that McCaughan recorded them on to a CD, and Four One Five Two is the result.
Anyone familiar with McCaughan’s songwriting in his other bands will know what to expect here. McCaughan is a very urban songwriter; his songs are post-industrial anthems for the average man who struggles with everyday city living. McCaughan loves the city, but he wants to leave it. He feels lonesome and detached, but he loves independence. He’s sick of not having a safe place, but he loves the freedom it gives him. These are the contradictions that make up the core of McCaughan’s song writing. He explores these issues with great success on the tender and restrained “Midsummer Classic”, and the more mobile “The Sea of Lights”.
McCaughan never really comes right out and tells you what he means. Instead, he speaks in poetic metaphors and personal reflections, and allows the listener to fill in the meaning. This makes for a very cathartic experience, at the expense of making it emotionally accessible. In other, less pretentious words, you have to be in the right mood to fully appreciate this record.
As much as Four One Five Two establishes McCaughan as a singer / songwriter, he has some trouble at times breaking out of his punk shadow. Songs like “Traffic Haze” and “Jackson Underground” are good, but ultimately sound more like acoustic Lawrence Arms songs, and not McCaughan. Chris even covers two Lawrence Arms song on the record, “Boatless Booze Cruise” and “100 Resolutions”. Both sound good unplugged, with “100 Resolutions” sounding better of the two, probably because McCaughan wrote it and not “Booze Cruise”. Also, the second half of the album has a little filler in the form of “Cold White North” and “Your Self Portrait”.
If Four One Five Two has any big flaw, it’s that it still feels very tethered to The Lawrence Arms, both thematically and sonically. Still, Sundowner is a side project, not a new band, so the connection is expected and even at times welcomed. Four One Five Two is a catchy acoustic album that can appeal to anyone who is a fan of that genre. While not indispensable, it is certainly enjoyable, and only helps to further the songwriting development of McCaughan. And if nothing else, it is a good hold over until the next Lawrence Arms album comes out.
Rating: 6.5 out of 10
Key Tracks: “The City of Lights” “Midsummer Classic” “100 Resolutions”
Worth The Money: Yes