A Good-Natured Change of Pace for Nicole Atkins

by delarue

Goth music can be a riot, especially when it’s not trying to be. Same deal with Nicole Atkins‘ latest album, Slow Phaser, streaming at Spotify. It’s a sharp turn away from the brooding, frequently lurid, Americana-tinged sound that’s been her stock in trade. In much the same vein as Pulp, who built a career out of being simultaneously creepy and funny, this one goes in a satirical retro 70s and 80s vein. It’s a keyboard-driven album. Organ and an endless supply of cheesy vintage synth patches pop up everywhere, in lieu of the Irina Yalkowsky guitar solos that have made much of Atkins’ work so consistently intense. Atkins will be playing a lot of this new stuff, no doubt, at Madison Square Park on June 18 at 7 PM and if you’re going you should get there early.

Not everything on the album is funny and sarcastic. There’s We Wait Too Long, which looks back to early 80s Siouxsie & the Banshees: “I will soon find something wrong for you to find in me, I will bend the melody until it bleeds,” Atkins intones. With its creepy keys and church organ, Red Ropes is typical Atkins noir. “‘I’ll always be a prizefighter beaten up against the ropes; you’ll always be a liar, punchdrunk on busted hopes,” she laments. Then she segues into What Do You Know, which shifts from unexpectedly funky to 80s goth-pop with more of that ominous organ. And from there, into Gasoline Bride, which starts out as a savage Nashville gothic escape anthem but then goes into high camp as the synth raises the cheese factor to redline.

Building out of a cool noir piano-and-organ intro, It’s Only Chemistry becomes a blithely carnivalesque mashup of noir, oldschool soul and circus rock. Atkins reaches for a parched desperation against a backdrop of theatrical 80s goth-pop on The Worst Hangover. A wry miniature, Sin Song loops an acoustic guitar riff straight out of Supertramp underneath an obscenely amusing punk rock mantra.

Cool People nicks the riff from Walk on Wild Side, a snide outsider’s anthem juxtaposing silly synth flourishes with a typically moody Atkins lyric. There are also a couple of straight-up retro 70s disco songs: Who Killed the Moonlight, and the sarcastic post-party brushoff scenario Girl You Look Amazing. The album ends on a somberly enveloping note with the mysterious, swayingly nocturnal, metaphorically-charged seafaring anthem Above As Below, bringing to mind a slow ballad by the Church from around 1990 or so. Which could be a sign that since Atkins has had her fun, it’s time to go back to the shadows she knows so well.