Mike Rimbaud’s Coney Island Wave Is a Riptide
Any conversation about great lyrical songwriters since the punk era needs to include Elvis Costello and Graham Parker…and Mike Rimbaud. Rimbaud is younger than they are; stylistically, he’s closer to Parker, both in terms of surreal, aphoristic, dark lyrics and excellent guitarslinging. In fact, Rimbaud’s the best guitarist of all three, equally interesting whether he’s working an oldschool soul vamp, playing twangy noir surf licks, angry punk rock or glimmering, nocturnal Stonesy lines. His most recent album of originals, Coney Island Wave is one of the great New York rock records. It’s both a celebration of this city as well as an often savagely spot-on look at the state of the world, 2012, set to catchy, usually upbeat tunes that run the gamut from vintage new wave, to creepy garage rock, to oldschool soul. It’s the rare album where the melodies are as good as the lyrics, which are just plain kick-ass pretty much all the way through, Rimbaud handling all the guitars, keys and occasional harmonica and backed by a no-nonsense rhythm section of Chris Fletcher on bass, Andrea Pennisi on percussion and Kevin Tooley on drums.
The first track is Burning the Night Out Early, set in a vivid late night Coney Island of the mind where “it’s getting early”- that kind of night. If you’ve experienced one of those there, this will resonate mightily. Rimbaud follows it with Dance with a Mermaid, a noir garage rock song packed with loaded metaphors, the mermaid dancing on the Titanic since the ocean’s full of oil and global warming has brought the mix to a boil, so to speak.
With its clever Like a Rolling Stone allusions, Don’t You Love This City keeps the sarcasm at boiling point. The next track, Everybody Needs a Daddy sounds suspiciously sarcastic as well, especially with the Simpsons and Darth Vader references – could it be a jab at the Bloomberg nanny-state patriarchy?
Got to Sell Yourself is just plain great, an anthem for anyone who’d like to take the world’s oldest profession to the next level: “You’re a failure when nobody’s buying, you’re something else when you’re sold out; you’re a loser ’cause you only own yourself,” Rimbaud snarls over the song’s casually biting, insistent hook. Here Comes the Subway Sun could be a tribute to the joys of tripping on the train; Mamma Say Something Nice follows in a brooding blue-eyed soul vein, like something Parker might have done in the late 70s.
The album really heats up at this point. Puppet Man, with its soul organ groove, is packed with more politically-charged sarcasm. “Like Pinocchio, go to Tokyo,” is one recurrent motif: a Fukushima reference, maybe? The album’s funniest, and probably most timely track is Put Your Facebook on the Shelf:
Don’t let it get in your head
Slavery’s not dead…
Your password’s not a secret
Eyes wander on the page
Your tongue hangs out like a hungry dog
How many friends can you count on?
Rimbaud rasps over a catchy groove that’s part Elvis C., part Bob Marley.
Saving to Go Bankrupt – an anthem for the Occupy movement, with some very insightful and useful background from Rimbaud here – offers both a succinct condemnation of the one percenters’ bankrupt system as well as hope for the future: “Wake up from your American dream!” Rimbaud follows that one with Tears for the Rich and Famous, a searing, guitar-fueled condemnation of celebrity shallowness capped by a sweet, vengefully swinging guitar solo. The last track, Unicorn, is the most retro 80s of all the songs here – with its goth tinges and synthesizer, it sounds like an outtake from a previous session that might have been tacked on here to end the album on a more upbeat note. Rimbaud also has a killer new album just out, Can’t Judge a Song by Its Cover, which imaginatively reinvents an impressively diverse mix of classics and standards by Bob Dylan, Phil Ochs, Dave Brubeck, Bruce Springsteen, Bob Marley, Tom Jobim, the Beatles and others. That’s up next here. Rimbaud is also featured on the upcoming Occupy This Album anthology, a benefit record for the Occupy Movement featuring some obvious suspects along with several refreshingly not-so-obvious ones including Immortal Technique,Willie Nelson and Toots & the Maytals plus New York talents My Pet Dragon, Taj Weekes & Adowa and Stephan Said.