Sunday, March 29, 2009

Chris Isaak -- Mr. Lucky

Chris Isaak -- Mr. Lucky (Wicked Game/Reprise)

It’s been about eight years since Chris Isaak’s last album. So has he been keeping up with current music trends? Nope. Isaak knows what he does well and he keeps on doing it. This approach has yielded only a couple of great albums (his debut, Silvertone, and Forever Blue), but has rarely yielded a bad one.

As is often the case, absence has made my ears grow fonder. I’m a sucker for Isaak’s classic balladeering and Orbison-esque vocals. This album shows that Isaak knows his strengths and plays to them accordingly.

All Isaak needs is a downcast melody to brood to and some tasteful guitar, and a great song might emerge. That’s what happens on “We Let Her Down”. Isaak looks at a woman whose life goes array, and no one was there to help (yep, just like the title indicates). The music pulses and Isaak is given room to show that he can still cry with anguish, sustaining high notes for a long period of time. Sometimes, with the right voice, it doesn’t take much to make a great pop song, and this certainly is a great pop song.

Isaak tones things down just slightly on “You Don’t Cry Like I Do”. Here, Chris demonstrates once more why he’s been garnering Roy Orbison comparisons for over 20 years. He sounds pained as he sings the loser lyrics and then cuts loose on the chorus, and it is beautiful, sad and captivating.

Isaak has always balanced the moody songs that his voice demands be sung with some more playful material. There’s plenty of that here. “Take My Heart” has a Hawaiian feel, with cheesy backing vocals and jazzy guitar licks. Isaak breaks into a rockabilly shuffle on “We’ve Got Tomorrow”. And the album closer “Big Wide Wonderful World” sounds like a meld of Isaak’s ‘50s rock style with something more in the vein of Bobby Darin at the Sands.

Isaak also does a couple of duets, with intermittent success. He teams with Trisha Yearwood on “Breaking Apart”. Both singers are in fine form, but the chorus is blandly melodramatic. Meanwhile, Michelle Branch doesn’t add much to “I Lose My Heart”, which is a fairly generic Isaak tune.

So this isn’t a great album, but there’s enough here to ensure that I’ll plunk down for Isaak’s next effort.

1 comment:

Thierry said...

Don't forget about Baja Sessions when listing Isaak's great records - I'm with you on Silvertone and Forever Blue, but that's the one I seem drawn to most of the time (and a great Sunday/summer record to boot).