The American city of Detroit, Michigan has been in the news quite a bit these last few years. The urban decay and financial woes have often overshadowed the city’s proud history as both a center of American industrial progress and a ground-zero for some fine rock’n’roll. As I write this review, the city is embroiled in a controversy over the legality of its recent declaration of bankruptcy, filed mere days ago.
Against that backdrop, minor music legend Deniz Tek has released the gritty Detroit, the fourth full-length released under his own name (he has some albums and EPs as The Deniz Tek Group as well). Perhaps best known as the American front man of Australian proto/pub rockers Radio Birdman, Tek’s voice and guitar are a no-nonsense pairing. And on Detroit, that aesthetic is highlighted.
Tek’s vocals are recorded “dry,” that is, with a minimum of effects. The same is true for the guitars, and well, damn near everything else; this album (recorded in a pair of Montana studios) is very much designed to sound like a band onstage. One of few concessions to modernity is the use of synthesizers (coutesy of Ron Sanchez of Donovan’s Brain; Tek plays on their latest as well). Elsewhere it’s chiming ,wiry and fret-buzzing electric and acoustic guitars, straightforward Hammond B3, and a no-bullshit rhythm section backing.
Sometimes the band cranks it up to ten (or maybe it’s eleven, seeing as the drummer is Ric Parnells, aka Spinal Tap‘s Mick Shrimpton), as on “Twilight of the Modern Age.” Other times Tek and his players take it more soft and contemplative, as on the country-flavored “Growing Dim.”
“Can of Soup” sounds a bit like vintage Replacements or Soul Asylum. “Ghost Town” takes a left turn and heads in a blues direction, with Tek sounding a bit like Tom Verlaine. “Perfect World” is punctuated by wood block percussion, and is easily the most commercial-sounding track on Detroit, but that (thank goodness) still doesn’t represent a concession to the mainstream. “Falling” has shades of Dream Syndicate, while “Let Him Pay for That” is a roadhouse rocker in the proud, Stones-y tradition. “I’m All Right” is another classic rocker, sort of a Meet the Beatles meets Smithereens-with-harmonica. For meat-and-potatoes rock’n’roll with unapologetic punk attitude leavened by melody, Detroit is a worthy musical destination.
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