Saturday, May 19, 2007

Late for the Party of Absent Friends

Sometimes JunkThief tends to be a cultural Rip Van Winkle. After all, having done plenty of Mayfair and Beekman Place dumpster dives, it’s not unusual to be dressing up in smoking jackets and opera togs from a season or two back. But JT’s mother always said, a classic, well tailored silhouette has no expiration date.

So now and again something from the recent past comes to JT’s attention and just knocks him on his arse and feels like a…you know…religious experience.

Case in point is the slow boil of Neil Hannon of the “band” The Divine Comedy. JT has liked Neil for quite a while. He's never done more than make the tiniest mark in the U.S. with too obscure and dark of a sensibility, though he did show up for one tune on Air's new Pocket Symphony. Neil and DC are a weird hybrid of Noel Coward, Scott Walker, Paul Weller of the Jam and the Style Council, cinema scores and tortured poet. Add in a dash of Richard Harris signing the Jimmy Webb catalogue and you get the full picture. There are 3-4 of DC’s past albums in the JT library with a few favorite singles such as “Your Daddy’s Car” sample lyric: "Can't you feel the sadness in our love?/It's the only kind we're worthy of.") and “The Perfect Love Song,” but none of them have ever gelled as a cohesive album. What little press he gets in the U.S., is usually on websites like this.

For quite some time JT has admired the cover of the 2004 DC release Absent Friends that looks like it could have been shot in his York Street living room. Neil and JT share an almost identical fashion sense that says you can never have too many velvet suits and blazers, Ben Sherman and Munsingwear shirts and Josef Seibel shoes. The fact that Neil is a flaming straight man with more operatic melodrama and camp than Rufus Wainwright and Lance Loud put together is all the more intriguing. Perhaps that he’s from Northern Ireland explains a lot about his tortured, romantic soul.

Although when some straight guys’ hearts are broken they’ll go out and sing a rumbling blues or gurgling, bourbon soaked dirge, Neil feels the best way is to do so is with a huge string section, operatic flair, martini glass raised in the air, and the most perfect mix of art nouveau/1965 London mod suit and shoes. It’s exactly what JT does when he’s hung up on or just got dumped by or just dumped some boy.

Those are the themes of Absent Friends, each tune building and building like all the best, most intense moments of Scott Walker’s first four solo albums only ramped up a few notches, like sipping double shots of absinthe on Montague Terrace while Gaudi and Poulenc dance a tango with Cocteau and Coward looking on while gossiping with Anita Berber and Man Ray.

It’s the first tune on Absent Friends that sucked JT in – amazingly weaving together the sad fates of Jean Seberg, Steve McQueen and Oscar Wilde all into one tune – with the perfect mix of heart ache, hope, camp and frantic energy. While I used to think Neil was a bit of a goof, overblown, hanging out with Ute Lemper for too long (speaking of wacko drama queens), he’s convinced me that he’s the real deal. How fitting that this odd little straight man has sung the most touching tribute I’ve ever heard to Oscar Wilde. Watch him with this full, gorgeously overblown orchestration in the clip below. (At this link until the YouTube embedding is back up.) Sure, the boy’s off pitch and really reaching for the notes several times, but his passion on the last passage reaches me on such a deep level as I think of my own many absent friends. Just hearing his grand tribute makes me know the tune is not just about the short list of celebrities but all those who left the party too soon. The Pet Shop Boys came close to reaching this vibe on "Being Boring", but this take of those feelings is less glib.

He’s even recently moved from the personal to political with a powerful, yet-to-be-officially released tune about Guantanamo Bay.

I gotta tell you, at the risk of losing all homo-cred, that I find there to be something incredibly sexy about this guy in a way that none of the usual six-pack oh-so-manly gay cartoon/blow up muscle men can ever do for me. That’s pretty shocking, I know, and most of my gay friends tell me they think he’s ugly as hell. It’s not that he’s attractive in any check list sort of a way but appealing in that he’s such a quirky, gawky original. That’s probably the ultimate “I’m dating myself (‘cause nobody else will)” statement, but there it is. Then again, I sort of get turned on when Thom Yorke twists and shouts (or bleeps and screeches).

In the meantime, if you want to know what an album by JunkThief might sound like, go to iTunes now and catch all of Asbent Friends and hear the tales of everything from a rusting battleship, a weary international traveler and imaginary friends.

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At 7:17 AM, Blogger Salty Miss Jill said...

I dunno...he's completly my type. This chick digs scrawny pale guys.

Now I'm going to go have a listen...between your description and his hotness, I am most intrigued.

At 9:29 AM, Blogger Junk Thief said...

Oh, gosh, now I have competition! Anyway, he says he's straight even if he's sung lines like "I've just been to a FAB-U-LOUS party."

Yeah, the scrawny pale guys too often think it's hot to wear jeans hanging off their arse and scream angry woman hating rants. Oh, yeah, girls love that. I love that Neil has the balls to put on snazzy clothes and croon grand, melancholy verse with an orchestra back-up. He sure isn't typical of other straight boys born in 1970.

All the same, he seems like the guy at a party that everyone is ignoring while he sits in the corner holding a rose and reading Chekov or Proust. And he'd be the one going home with me.

If you want to build a Neil/DC library I'd suggest starting with his "best of" disc "A Secret History" and "Absent Friends" which is pure perfection.

At 10:00 AM, Blogger WAT said...

EW! OH NO! He oogly to me. You must be enamored by his music or something and that's what charms you about him and you are willing to overlook his physical appearance.

He looks like an emaciated insect of some sort.

I'd rather hear about the Spaniards again. LOL.

At 10:20 AM, Blogger Junk Thief said...

You sound like my mom, WAT. She'd get after me when I'd have some some scraggly, skinny mutt follow me home from school. Though she was more prone to gravitate to Italians (as I have from time to time).

Forced to choose, I'd definitely go with the Spainards (or Argentinians, or Chileans, or Mexicans, or...)

Don't worry, I'll get back to the Spanish vibe again soon.

At 3:16 PM, Blogger Salty Miss Jill said...

Straight, you say? Yeah...straight to the gay bar!

Anyways, who cares...he's a cutie and I'm a married woman. ;)

Scrawny pale guys in vintage suits are good...especially if they're reading something heady.
Scrawny pale guys who are noisy misogynists and wear pants that don't fit are BAD. BAD. BAD.

However, sometimes-and more often than not- the sensitivity and literacy is just a ruse to get unsuspecting women into bed. (imagine THAT!) At least the loud ones are more easily identified concerning thier evil ways, and can be avoided.

Anyways, remember this:
Men are pigs, women are bitches, and faggots are bitchy pigs.

Time to download some Neil/DC!

At 4:00 PM, Blogger Junk Thief said...

Gosh, there seems to be a debate about to be brewing here. I'm starting to feel like MSNBC. If I were pushed against the wall and had to decide (kind of a nice image, actually), my first choice would be a Spaniard or Latin American who could quote Neruda, Proust and Dorothy Parker. I've met a few through the years Santiago, Monte Video and Valparaiso are all good hunting ground for those types. Hey, if he looks good, rolls his Rs and is smart, he can use any method of choice to get me in bed. Anyway, I'm not married and can play the bitch and pig roles simultaneously.

At 10:35 PM, Blogger Eva the Deadbeat said...

Sold, I am gonna buy the album!


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