Friday, August 1, 2008

Richard X. Heyman -- Actual Sighs (Previously Unpublished 2007 review)

Richard X. Heyman -- Actual Sighs (Turn-Up)

If you believe Parke Puterbaugh’s liner notes, this new Heyman disc isn’t just the best thing since sliced bread, it’s miles better. And while I still thank the Parke-ster for his praiseful review of Sparks’ Angst In My Pants, which led me down the road of Mael worship, methinks that his hype goeth too far.

Yes, it’s cool that the Richard X-man went back to songs he wrote back in the days when he was merely a fledgling power pop cult figure. And sure, getting around to finally record them is a good idea, because there still aren’t enough Heyman tracks in the world. But after reading these liners, you’d think that Richard should be nominated for a Pulitzer or a Nobel or something.

Okay, enough about the liners. Here we have the fully grown up Richard, doing songs he wrote when he wanted to grow up to be the man that he is now today. What can we learn from this?

First, that from the get go, Heyman wrote great songs. Second, that he, much like contemporary Tommy Keene, has honed his style to perfection. So there are no revelations here. Only fun catchy songs, some of which cut more deeply than fodder for AM radio (were it still the driving force in music). This is melodic rock with lots of drive.

At times, Heyman plays with the fervor of Bruce Springsteen in the ‘70s. “RXH’s in the First Person Blues” may be based on a jangly blues chord progression, but the song is a real head rush, with Richard cheerfully admitting, “I’m a liar.” If you hadn’t read the liners, you might believe that Heyman recorded this when he was 18, as he is so spirited. Remember, Richard pretty much plays everything on his records, and this track is about as rocking as a one-man army can get.

Heyman’s drums and another great guitar line fire up “Stockpile”, which is not a song about his attic full of unrecorded songs. But it’s not too far away. It’s about staying home with books, movies, and music, while the world goes to shit. This comes from the same geeky side of Richard that spawned the fab “Civil War Buff” (from Hey Man!), but it’s laced with either paranoia or misanthropy -- you can take your pick. Despite the bitter lyrics, this is buoyant music that sounds like the Beau Brummels gone power pop. This is another song that makes me think of Springsteen, in the energy and attitude.

There is one song that is truly bluesy. “Twelve Bars And I Still Have the Blues” is barroom rock at its best. Heyman gets a groove going and holds onto it. He even sings a line and then repeats it, like all the best bluesmen do. There may be another straight blues rocker in Heyman’s catalog, but I can’t think of it right now. It’s a great change of pace, particularly when Richard takes off on an acrobatic guitar solo run.

Some of my favorite RXH songs are the slow numbers. On those songs, Heyman’s wistful, romantic side takes over, and washes me over in sweetness and sadness. There are a few of those on here, none better on “Winter Blue”. Heyman’s arranging skills are on full display here. The basic elements of the track are there from the beginning - the constant guitar part, the light percussion, but he subtly adds other things throughout the track. And the instrumental break, with its lovely synthesized strings and flute is so durned pretty it makes me all emotional and stuff.

As a bonus, Heyman redoes the songs from his debut EP. The re-recordings of the Actual Size material just make this bundle all the more wonderful. “I’m That Kind Of Man” is pretty much quintessential Richard, something that could have ended up on any of his albums. Then there’s another one of those achingly sweet ballads, “Hoosier”, which has a great opening line: “The girl I used to know/yes, you’d like to know her too.” It also has a buttery harmony filled chorus. Never has the word “hoosier” sounded so nice.

I wish this came with the lyrics. Heyman is one of the more interesting lyricists in power pop, because he not only is a word playa, if you know what I mean, but as songs like the aforementioned “Stockpile” show, he’s willing to think outside the genre box when it comes to subject matter. Just take it from me, there are a lot of cool words here to go with the cool music.

The only thing to do now is enjoy this and wonder what’s next? The undiscovered box set that Heyman absentmindedly left in a cupboard in his folks’ Winnebago in Port St. Lucie, Florida? A concept album about the Battle of Bull Run? Stay tuned, I’m sure it will be good.

1 comment:

The Time Machine said...

Love the album and play it on the air quite heavily still after a year since it was released. Here's a quick link to check out the one song that gets played the most on the FM dial out here in Hawaii: