Wits End – Cass McCombs

Label: Domino Records

Last I heard of Cass McCombs was ‘Crick in My Neck’. Here was the perennially enigmatic and hard-to-nail Californian throbbing away like a persistent headache or the proverbial thorn in one’s side. It was a thrashing celebration of couldn’t-give-a-fuck vocals, swooning guitars and slippery organ fondling. Classy and upbeat miserablism that gave Morrisey and Leonard Cohen a run for their money. And if all you hear is the bruised gothic melancholy of  ‘Buried Alive’ and ‘Saturday Song’ with lines like ‘stinking corpse I smell but cannot sea, you hateful neighbour’ you’ll probably appreciate there’s not a great deal of evidence to say things have perked up any, but that would be to ignore the frisky melodic joy of songs like ‘Memory’s Stain’ which evokes the gorgeous scruffy innocence of Badly Drawn Boy when he was still turning out songs as pretty as ‘The Shining’. Is it easy listening? Well, if listening to the quiet, desperate screams of a man in terminal isolation makes for an easy experience, then easy it is, but perhaps too much has been made of album opener, ‘County Line’, a mellow and loping AOR radio friendly number that defiles the spirit of the Fleetwood Mac/Chicago era from whence it came with Cass’s usual endless pain. Let’s face it, even a careless spill of oil can produce a rainbow on occasion. Misery is sometimes how you look at it, and on this occasion the gentle gasps and sighs it raises are the air that restores his mighty lungs. Sex and death: an extraordinary but no less successful marriage.

‘Wit’s End’ – still more English than Greensleeves, but this time almost as traditional and tenderly baroque t’boot.

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Release: Cass McCombs - Wits End
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Released: 18 May 2012