Solo album by Jerry Harrison
of Talking Heads
, from 1987.
Based on the way the cover is written, the musicians or musical entity are known as 'Jerry Harrison: Casual Gods' and the recording is titled 'Casual Gods'. By all accounts, keyboardist/guitarist Jerry was the most conventional
, in a musical sense, of the T-Heads, and this album seems to support that (obligatory
effort to be non-T-Heads on solo work aside). Certainly not a hit
effort, this album still has a kind of coherence
, and also a richness of detail and structure, that stands up over time. One could dismiss
it on a casual
listen, but the solid songs get better and the weaker ones insinuate
themselves into one's beat
vocabulary with repeated listenings.
Much of the guitar work, with the clipped, prickly notes, is indeed keyboard-like in its sensibilities, and rhythmic
explorations permeate every song. Jerry clearly meant for this stuff to be moved to, though it would be a stretch to call it dance music
- it is firmly planted in late-80s post-rock. Jerry et. al. appeared once on the Tonight Show
with Johnny Carson
, and his club performance roots were clearly evident - he was almost at home in that venue
'Rev It Up' is a fun opener about an eager girl who throws down a challenge (hope you have a motorcycle
). 'Song of Angels' is a multi-layered piece that's purely upbeat and recalls T-Heads a little. 'Man With a Gun' is the best song on the album, with a cinematic
quality that is no doubt due at least in part to it's being actually used for a movie (research needed). The synthesizer plays long deep notes that change oh-so-slowly, while the almost spoken vocal starts...
A pretty girl,
a pretty girl,
can walk anywhere.
All doors open for her...
-like guitar comes in and the song flows on, elucidating that reverent awe
truly beautiful women inspire. The mood is sustained throughout the song, which had to require incredible restraint
It would have been so easy to ruin this song.
'Let It Come Down' is meant to be spare
, airy, and threatening to contrast the heady
feelings just inspired, and it works, though maybe it is a bit too
plodding. The breaks from echo-y solo vocals to arching group choruses are nice, and the organ at the end accentuates the church-like overtones. 'Cherokee Chief
' is a fun power-riff
driven rocker that sends up SUVs and wannabe hardasses
. Definitely a 'turn it up loud' number. 'A Perfect Lie' is a pretty straight-ahead dance number about someone both delighted and a little suspiscious about his lover's new-found skill. 'Are You Running' is more of the same, and combined with the later 'Bobby' business is what probably turns most people off to this album, though it isn't objectionable in itself. 'Breakdown In The Passing Lane' is an enigma. The thumping beat juxtaposed with the melodic breaks leads to ignoring it as simply formulaic
, but the lyrics are pretty clever, and the synth-sax solo is great. The resurfacing of the vehicle/road theme is an interesting side note, and accentuates that most of the songs are about relationships. All subtlety is discarded on the next track, 'A.K.A. Love', a lover's plaint
with all staccatto
instrumentation and lots of headphone
effects and a decided lack of reliance on melody. Funny, for a love song
'We're Always Talking' compensates by returning to an almost Phil Spectorish wall of sound
richness and well thought out lyrics. There's an atmospheric interplay between the instruments that is particularly inspired. The song's theme of acceptance
of one's lover as she/he is, and celebration
of same, is the most hopeful message on the album.
This leads to the curious problem of 'Bobby'.
This piece comes in two versions, one after the other; the second is an extended dance mix
version, which in those days usually showed up after a song was a hit, mostly in dance clubs
. So the repetition is a problem for your average album or CD listener. Another problem is that it isn't that solid a song to begin with, and is mostly composed of the tricks one throws in for an extended version. The final nail in the coffin is the subject matter - a phone call to a troubled friend who is on the verge of going Hollywood
, in the Lethal Weapon
sense of the term. It is a serious conceptual break from the overall thrust of the album, which as stated before, is about relationships. The album would probably have been better without either version, though I must admit that after many many listenings I find them both, especially the extended version, comfortable in the way one likes putting on an old pair of tattered work gloves - worn-through fingers, split seams, and all.
Overall, probably something only an 80s
vetran could love, and distinct enough from the 80s stereotype
to disappoint those who came later but like that kind of thing
. Still, like most albums, has a couple of great tracks, a few good ones, and some filler. Jerry was just having fun and trying to get it right
- Rev It Up
- Song of Angels
- Man With A Gun
- Let It Come Down
- Cherokee Chief
- A Perfect Lie
- Are You Running?
- Breakdown In The Passing Lane
- A.K.A. Love
- We're Always Talking
- Bobby (Extended Mix)
The main album artwork is a dark monochromatic
photo of thousands of muddy, black-haired indigents hauling sacks of something heavy up, down, and all round an vast open-pit
. Inside, this block of text sits, in white on a black field:
These are not scenes from a
movie. These pictures were taken
last year in Brazil. 50,000 men
are digging for gold in a hole that
was once a mountain. Though
they look like swarming ants or
endless caravans of pack animals,
they are men, reduced to this con-
dition by poverty and the bewil-
dering indifference of casual gods.