Mike Rimbaud Captures the State of the City

by delarue

No other songwriter has captured the current climate in New York better than Mike Rimbaud. One powerful influence on Rimbaud’s work, lyrically speaking, is Phil Ochs, (check out the absolutely vindictive version of The Ringing of Revolution from Rimbaud’s 2012 album You Can’t Judge a Song by Its Cover). Rimbaud’s latest album Midnight Rainbow – streaming at his site – is an eclectic, characteristically tuneful, savagely lyrical, cleverly amusing mix of songs that span from straight-up four-on-the-floor rock, to new wave, garage rock, psychedelia and reggae. Rimbaud has listened deeply and widely; his thinly veiled references to other songs, especially from the Rolling Stones, are cruelly spot-on. Rimbaud plays all the guitars as well as banjo, backed by tersely tuneful bassist Chris Fletcher and excellent drummer Kevin Tooley, with occasional keyboards from Marc Billon.

Image by image, Rimbaud portrays a city and a world on the brink, reeling from natural disasters, terminally distracted by the vapidity of status-grubbing and social media, the luxury of the corporate elite juxtaposed against crushing poverty and despair. Ultimately, this album is a call to action and revolution – and also one of the best  of 2013 by a Broadway mile.

The classic cut here is Jackhammer Jones. Over wickedly catchy, psychedelic minor key rock spiced with searing wah solos and guitar sitar – with a nod to the Lovin’ Spoonful – Rimbaud paints an allusive picture of a city being destroyed from within by gentrification:

Turn off your phone, what can you hear, baby?
Call it noise or call me a liar
Ears can bleed and eyes can weep
When you read between the lines

The jauntily swinging title track pictures an unlikely rainbow over the Empire State Building at night – hey, this is the global warming era, stranger things have happened. On Big Bad Bully, as he does on many of the other cuts here, Rimbaud takes aim at a target and riffs surrealistically on it, in this rounding up the Wall Street bulls who “treat everyone like cattle.”

Slow Down to Get Ahead layers clattery percussion over a reggae bassline and builds from there, an anthem for anyone tempted to unplug from the rat race. Rimbaud returns to that idea toward the end of the album with Time Burglar, a rapidfire stream of dissociative, sardonic imagery: “Swing over the Williamsburg Babylon, catching flies in one hand…relax with some hillbilly music, a song from another ice age.”

Sandy Must Be Crazy, a hurricane memoir, builds from dub reggae to roaring Stonesy rock. On one level, Rimbaud’s images capture an unfortunately indelible New York moment, on the other he’s also captured the more disturbing context that rose to the surface in the wake of the storm.

The sarcastically bubbling Teacher’s Got a Bad Mouth takes a counterintuitive look at schoolroom insanity, from the point of view of a teacher struggling to focus the attention of a class lobotomized by Facebook. Rimbaud revisits that theme a little later with the nonchalantly brooding, Indian-flavored Learning More About Less.

Robin Hood in Reverse is a stompingly snide Springsteen-style singalong: “Money talks, money is speech, this is a protest song and talk is cheap,” Rimbaud intones breathily. The metaphorically-charged Dark Money Can’t Buy Her Kisses grows from mysterious psych-pop to a brooding 70s soul sway. The album ends with a long, scruffy cover of the Beatles’ Baby, You’re Rich Man, bringing it full circle. Britain in 1977 had the Clash: New York in 2013 has Mike Rimbaud. That’s a start. Now bring on the revolution.

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