Tuesday, March 3
Indie Rock's Mustached Meatloaf Strikes Chords, But Not Without the Occasional Strikeout
Artist: Franz Nicolay
Album: Major General
Comments: I'll always have a soft spot for over-the-top balladeers like Meatloaf and Billy Joel. Say what you want about their theatrical tendencies and their ham-handedness, but when one makes their entire musical career about the trails and tribulations of love, mankind's most overblown emotion, there has to be a sense of presentation and grandness. It is this mentality, the idea of magnifying emotions through music, that drives Franz Nicolay's Major General, the first solo record from the mustached troubadour responsible for ivory tickling with The Hold Stead and World Inferno/Friendship Society.
The existence of this album doesn't make much sense, until one pulls back and realizes that Nicoaly, with his operatic voice and flair for the dramatic (I mean, have you SEEN this man?), is one of the few members of their band with enough character to support a solo album. And if there is one thing Major General has, it is character. In spades.
Nicolay must have been working on variations of these songs for years. The music jumps around in style so much that Major General is more a collection of ideas than an actual album. Some of the ideas are quite good, too. Take for example the album opener "Jeff Penalty," a punk smasher about Nicolay's time at a Dead Kennedys reunion show. The song builds toward a big multi-vocal breakdown that doesn't work as well as one would hope, but is still worth repeat listens. In the same vein is the excellent "Confessions of an Ineffective Casanova," in which Nicolay regales us with tales of his botched romances. Both songs might be a little bit too "Hold Steady" for some, but those people are just being dicks (on "Quiet Where I Lie," however, that argument is much more apt).
Of course, an album of just punk anthems would never stand for someone as quirky as Nicolay. The rest of Major General is all over the place, jumping from Joel-like character sketches ("Dead Sailors" and "Hey Dad!") to an honest to God smooth lounge track ("Do We Not Live in Dreams?") and every classic rock touchstone in between. All this jumping from style to style insures that the listener is never bored at the cost of robbing the album of any sort of cohesive flow or connection. And while Nicolay has a distinct voice, it does tend to waver at times, reveling why he's been a backup singer in most of his bands.
Major General is a pretty decent collection of songs from a man who obviously has more ideas than his two bands will allow him to release, but probably too many ideas to ever button down and release a steady unified work. Still, if you've got a soft spot for the dramatic blowhards who know more about the human heart and aren't afraid to sing about it, there's a lot to like in Franz Nicolay.
Key Tracks: Jeff Penalty, Do We Not Live In Dreams?, Confessions of an Inefective Casanova, I'm Done Singing