If you’re going to steal from someone, you might as well rip off somebody good, right? Unlike a lot of crooners from Down Under, singer Jack Ladder isn’t trying to be Nick Cave. He’d rather be Leonard Cohen. Which isn’t such a bad thing, in a very stylized, 80s, Everybody Knows kind of way. His latest album Playmates, with his band the Dreamlanders, is streamng at Spotify, with a trio of tracks up at Bandcamp as well if you want a taste and don’t feel like riding the fader to kill the ads. Ladder and the band have a couple of New York shows coming up: on December 1, they’re at Baby’s All Right at around 10 for $14. Then they’re at the Mercury the following night, December 2 at 7:30 PM for two bucks less if you get tix in advance. The Mercury box office is open Tuesday through Saturday, noon to 6 PM.
Sharon Van Etten guests on ethereal backing vocals on the album’s opening track, Come On Back This Way. It’s a good story, one that pretty much everybody’s known. A guy and a girl leave the bar, under “the magnesium moon, the streets all smell like piss…if tomorrow never comes, I wouldn’t ever care at all,” he says. She’s drunker than he is. She’s taken a glass from the bar, probably wonders why the creep she’s with won’t leave her alone and is pissed off about it. She does something reckless that she shouldn’t – a few things, actually. And the ending is less pat than you might expect.
Track two is Her Hands, an icy 80s downtempo number awash in trippy/cheesy synth patches, a portrait of a femme fatale. The cynical goth-pop Model World is where “The streets are alive with picket fences,” and “Where we need to know everyone is safe…this shit wasn’t built to last, the water’s overflowing, and privacy is a thing of the past, everybody knows it, you can’t escape what you create.”
Reputation Amputation reaches for squizzling industrial ambience, a dirtier take on what Iggy was going for on the Idiot, maybe. By contrast, lingering Lynchian guitars echo in from the shadows on the bolero-tinged Let Me Love You. Van Etten adds her wounded understatement on To Keep & to Be Kept, a new wave update on angst-fueled Orbison noir 60s pop. With its dry-as-a-bone drum samples and warptone synth, The Miracle is period-perfect late 80s new wave.
Ladder takes a stab at heavy-duty stadium goth grandeur with Neon Blue, while Our Ascension brings to mind Billy Idol with a worldview. The final cut is the aphoristic ballad Slow Boat to China and its shameless Leonard C. quotes. While the album’s production is cold and techy, there are some neat touches, like the faux Hawaiian guitar licks oscillating from the portamento lever here and there, and a decent approximation of gritty guitars. And a look at the red-jacketed Ladder (not his real name, obviously) on the album cover suddenly makes twisted sense: OMG, that’s Rick Springfield! And wasn’t he Australian? Are we ever going to escape the 80s or are they going to be stalking us forever?