Reviews

Eyes Adrift – Eyes Adrift

Label: Cooking Vintyl

Sometimes they appear out of the blue, directionless: untried and true. These are Curt Kirkwood’s words from the song ‘Untried’, but they just as ably summarise the lightning strike success of Novoselic’s former band, Nirvana. And it’s inevitable that we start here, as this is surely what everyone wants to be talking about. But lets end it here too: lightning rarely strikes twice, if at all in exactly the same location.

It’s an imponderable task asking oneself where Kurt Cobain was next likely to steer his near definite grunge article, Nirvana toward. Imponderable and fruitless. When you’re driving so recklessly, you’re really not steering at all – just desperately trying to retain control of the wheel whilst simultaneously looking for the nearest place to crash. So if you’re harbouring any thoughts that Eyes Adrift will be the legitimate kin and heir to all that – forget it. What this record does do, however is give adequate shape to those disparate vagaries of thought and threads that were quite clearly giving shape to Cobain.

So what’s the connection? Well for a start you have Nirvana’s Krist Novoselic on bass and vocals, Bud Gaugh – ex-Sublime – on drums and ex-Meat Puppet Curt Kirkwood on guitar and vocals. Arizona’s Meat Puppets opened for Nirvana during the 1994 ‘In Utero’ tour, and Nirvana acknowledged their influence by performing three Meat Puppets tracks (all culled, incidentally, from 1983’s folk-punk opus, Meat Puppets II) during the ‘Unplugged’ sessions. So there you have your connections, and if they help connect with the music here, then fine – but don’t look up for the lightning.

On the face of it, Eyes Adrift’s debut is an album of such surprising quietude that it’s unlikely to trouble the neighbours, much less the establishment. That said, it’s still more spirited and naturally satisfying than anything put out by Novoselic’s former bandmate, Dave Grohl, and (if you really want to force it) more intrinsically akin to the underlying folk fabric of Cobain’s probing punk consciousness.

Although weak and directionless in parts, opening track ‘Sleight Of Hand’ is itself a potent little firecracker. With a whimsical trumpet solo by Jimmy Shortel, it could be argued the song is closer in spirit to the laid-back self-assurance of Nirvana’s ‘Unplugged’ sessions than anything else before or after: the slinkily played, growling, insistent hooks, surreal and playful lyrics, deadpan delivery and as dry as sandpaper vocals make this a tasty little match for anyone turned on by ‘Man Who Sold The World’. And there’s a similar approach on ‘Solid’-  choc full of the same references to self-loathing, self-mutilation, disease and anatomy that characterised much of Cobain’s work. The toxic situations, the registered denials, the vile habituations – all provide a suitable backdrop to the Kirkwood’s dislocated stranger within, his ‘plastic man’.

‘Inquiring Minds’ – panned mercilessly already by many a Meat Puppet puppet – is to be fair, one of the most perfectly realised tracks on the album. You might not like Novoselic’s crude vocal delivery (vaguely reminiscent of a My Nation Underground era Julian Cope) but in the context, it seems to work. The song cynically observes the ongoing media spectacle surrounding the brutal murder of 6-year-old girl, JonBenét Ramsey during Christmas 1996 (and not as one website puts it, the phonetist, linguist, polyglot, pedagogue, draughtsman, musician and also translator – Jean Vinay). Much to Novoselic’s credit, the baying media coverage is represented nicely by the skewed, repetitive, traditional American-folklore approach to the music – an approach that actually gives the song the recurring, ‘timeless’ feel the band are patently after.

‘Untried’/’Blind Me’ provide the alt-country romance. Here you have a chord book full of strumming folksiness with nods to everyone from the Eagles to REM, Jay Farrar and even the Cosmic Rough Rides; delicate, but not unpleasant.

‘Slow Race’ just about sums it up: the gentle, idle pulse of a picking guitar and the slurring, nasal whine of a tamed mind – what was once the cold seat of anarchy, now the warm and comfortable sofa bed of middle America.

It’s cool, but not entirely fashionable, listenable if in parts a little listless.

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Release: Eyes Adrift - Eyes Adrift
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Released: 20 January 2003