Jason Downs has been spring-cleaning his life, we’re told in anticipation of the 30-year-old hip-hop Cherokee country boy’s second album.
Things don’t get much better as the album unfolds in to the second, Shut Up (Hook Up) where my English ears are deafened by the irritating overuse of Yank expression “Chick” and a register which sounds like a poor man’s Red Hot Chili Peppers.
But with the third, Taste of the Action, comes a promising change. “I’ve lived like a bum when I’ve had to, I’ve dined with the richest of men, I’ve had little taste of the action, I won’t go backwards again” drawls Downs in his unnervely rich, deep and dark voice which has, and rightly so, invited comparisons to the uberlords of depression-rock Chris Isaak and Nick Cave.
There’s even a smidgen of Beck hidden in places too, in the crackingly good Everything is Love. Still in place are those achingly personal, tragic but heartwarming stories that brought Downs his original success while he experiments with forays in to electronica and concentrates still more on narration.
Perfect People, featuring John Lardieri,is an example of this. One first listen it’s inspiring, laid-back and uplifting but a closer look at the lyrics reveals hidden depths: “Perfect People living perfect lies”, he sings, “Perfect people popping perfect pills.” All is not well on the surface, then. And with Downs nor would we want it to be.
But then, the last song, Dirty Mind. It’s dreadful. It sounds like the soundtrack to a B-movie teen horror flick. Pah pah pah’s mix with vocal trickery, synths and an irritating electro drum beat. Pitch-shifting at its worst.. But why such a mixed bag of an album?
The answer may come in the difficulties Downs faced in writing The Spin. He was told, apparently, to make “more poppy and more commercial, about partying, fu*king the chucks and yanking the ho’s”.
Two years passed and he’d managed just eight songs. Understandably the label intervened and Downs realised things had to change. Within three months another eight songs had been recorded.
The finished product is The Spin, so called because you can spin things any way you like. The problem with spin doctors though, is we all want them to cut the crap. And that’s precisely what Downs should have done with this.