By Wallace Wylie
Is it irresponsible to write an album review without having heard a single note from said album? Maybe. It would probably depend on the album. Can you use an album cover to penetrate deep into the very core of the music and somehow extract its essence? I believe in some instances you can. I believe the album Muchacho by Phosphorescent provides us with one such example. Take a look at that album cover. I mean really look at it. Truly it is repulsive. The head tipped back just right, fingers on the brim of the cowboy hat. Wasted smile, wasted beard. Half-naked women frolic on a bed in the background. What message is this cover trying to get across? Clearly this image was not chosen at random. Far from it. The image was chosen because it encapsulates in some way the spirit of the music. It provides clues that reveal how the music should be received.
So here’s how I think the author of the album wishes us to interpret the front cover. This album is a modern Americana creation. The songwriter of Phosphorescent wants us to see him as a drunken philosopher, passed out in the gutter but spewing out wisdom. He is a barroom poet, ever ready to dish up tales of heartbreak, loneliness, and excess. Part Bukowski, part Willie Nelson, and part Townes Van Zandt. Yet with a keen eye you can see beyond this approved interpretation and discern something else. You can see the rotten core of Americana and the banalities it trades in. You can all but peek into the masturbation fantasies of a million bearded dudes across America who feel that by fleeing their suburban roots and adopting a ready-made country dude-bro vibe they can approximate some kind of authenticity. Within the unchallenging, lazy observations of indie country that seldom stretch beyond bleary-eyed regret or wide-eyed (but ‘hard-earned’) wonder, the modern Americana dude can feel that they are partaking in the simple truths of life away from the hustle and bustle of the ‘rat race’. The guy in Phosphorescent is just a good ol’ boy, never meanin’ no harm.
Why should I listen to this music? What will it give me other than nausea? Why must we retread these retreads? Every picture tells a story and that front cover tells a pitiful one. The sad thing is more than one of these dreadfully posed pictures is now doing the rounds. For all I know there are dozens in the sleeve notes. Same wasted smile. Same fingertips on the cowboy hat. Same beard. Same naked women.
I’ve decided there’s no real need to actually listen to the music because the clichéd cover reveals everything. Safe, comforting images that titillate and excite only those listeners whose thinking process has been replaced by some country-dude false consciousness. Must we have another album with a back-story that involves heartache and getting away from it all in order to fill the empty spaces of the music? Is it wrong to review an album without having listened to the songs? Perhaps, but it’s much worse to revel in cozy banalities. Ask yourself which of the two activities makes you angrier and get back to me.