Elvis Perkins is an artist sometimes better known for his heritagerather than for his actual music. Father Anthony Perkins (who of course playedNorman Bates in Psycho) died on September 12, 1992, due tocomplications related to HIV/AIDS. Mother Berry Berenson, a well-knownphotographer, was on board American Airlines Flight 11 on September11, 2001, when it hit the World Trade Center.
While Elvis’s debut, Ash Wednesday, was begun before his mother’sdeath, the event proved to be a shaping influence, spawning an albumthat is a profound and, at times, difficult meditation on death andgrief. Critically and, some might say, criminally under-appreciated,Ash Wednesday was viewed by many as a solid, if unspectacular,release.
In Dearland is particularly welcome insofar as it puts Perkins’smusicianship squarely in the centre and lays to rest any lingeringcriticism that he lacks variety or the capacity to write great songs.It’s an album that exudes confidence, which may be in part becausehe’s settled with a set band, who are the eponymous Dearland.
The results of their collaboration with Perkins are nothing shortof brilliant. Perkins’s voice soars in a way it never has before.Lyrically, he’s moved past the deep sadness of Ash Wednesday, and thisonly serves to make his music more accessible. Shampoo kicks off thealbum with a slow-burn, harmonica driving proceedings along,showcasing intricate, intelligent lyrics: “You are worth your weightin gold/ You are worth your weight in sorrow/ Though you’ll never knowwhy”.
Hey is Perkins as you have never heard him. Clocking in at arelatively short three minutes, it’s full of Buddy Hollyguitar-pop that will actually have you, wait for it, dancing. I HeardYour Voice In Dresden keeps up the fine pace and re-confirms Perkins’sskill as a storyteller. He’s been compared to Bob Dylan in the ’70sand this is a song that shows why.
Chains, Chains, Chains brings in a bluesy note, but still hasmischievous swagger. Doomsday picks this up and expands, delivering adrunken-sounding, classically American anthem on living for thepresent, which bows out on a massive sing-along moment. It alsoprovides the most deeply ironic and bittersweet moment, when Perkinssings: “Now in all my wildest dreams/ it never once was seen/ thatdoomsday would fall anywhere near Tuesday”. Both his Mother and Fatherdied on a Tuesday. The bravado of daring lightening to strike threetimes should raise a wry smile from Perkins fans.
123 Goodbye and How’s Forever Been bring the album to a close. Theformer is something of a torch song to moving on from former loversthat is bursting with a sense of emotional release and new foundfreedom in the act of letting go. The latter looks back more fondly,perhaps from a safe distance, and laments what is lost: “Remember,let’s plant a flowering tree/ here in the rubble and debris/ I’ll tendit with a tear/ if you only hold my hand/ ours forever, baby”.
The joy of Perkins is that his music is complex, intelligent andthorny. In a review you can merely sketch an outline. This doesn’t dojustice to In Dearland. Perkins is idiosyncratic: in partshilariously dry, in others mournful, but always poetic. Above all heis human and raw. There are bound to be some people that just don’tget it. For those that do, you are looking at a sure contender foryour album of the year.