on October 17, 2012
John Hiatt has done it again, which, to those who follow him, should come as no surprise. Pretty much since "Bring the Family," Mr. Hiatt has been delivering fun, relate-able, and sometimes dark songs, with his quirky sense of humor. This album has everything from a bluesy lament of the modern age ("Blues Can't Even Find Me"), a brush with masochism ("Bite Marks"), rockers about motorcycle accidents ("It All Comes Back Someday"), and a promise that it all will end in tears ("I Know How to Lose You"). At the very least, I love the way Hiatt says "Funyuns" in "Wood Chipper." Pop it in your car, and you'll end up driving around the block a couple of times, just so you can finish it.
on November 3, 2012
John Hiatt is a frustrating artist to me, he can write a witty scorching soul/blues/rocker and follow it up with some cornpone crap. He can write a deep heartfelt ballad and then write a cliche filled snoozer. I have been a fan since Bring
The Family and Slow Turning, I lost track of him for a time after Little Head. The albums Open Road and Dirty Jeans... brought me back into the fold, both are brilliant and have some of his deepest songwriting on them; Homeland, Like a Freight Train, Hold On For Your Love, and Down Around My Place are all classics.
I find it hard to understand why there are so many 5 star reviews for this album,
there are scant few songs that can hold a candle to his best work. We're Alright Now
is a keeper, Give It Up and One of Them Damn Days are well written songs, but I
find this CD to be his most boring since Same Old Man, SORRY.
I am still waiting for an album by Mr. Hiatt that can stand next to Walk On- I am still a huge fan, just not of this particular collection of songs.
on January 25, 2013
John Hiatt needs to take a vacation. The fact of the matter is, he's just been working WAY too hard, and, as a result, his work has begun to suffer. Releasing six albums in the last ten years (four in the last five!), Hiatt now almost seems to be going through the motions, repeating and rehashing himself. In so doing, he's lost much of the edge/spark/originality that's made him so special for almost four decades.
Make no mistake about it, MYSTIC PINBALL is Hiatt's strongest album since 2003's BENEATH THIS GRUFF EXTERIOR, with a number of classic moments to be found here. However, there's also a lot of filler, and that's just something you don't expect from one of America's pre-eminent singer/songwriters. Consequently, what is really a 3.5 star album is getting rounded down, vs. up.
The disc opens with the bluesy "We're Alright Now." The track has a spirited vibe to it, what with it's tight arrangement, crisp instrumentation and gutsy lead vocal. However, you can only write so many "happy" or "sad" songs before they all start running together....it's like "Wait a minute...wasn't this song on MASTER OF DISASTER? Or was it THE OPEN ROAD?!? O.K.....but I want more!
"Bite Marks" is a step in the right direction. Right from the opening note, you know this is classic Hiatt...once that wink-and-a-nudge vocal kicks in, you know this is going to be a fun ride! And when Hiatt growls "You like it rough/Down in the mud/Your idea of fun is drawin' blood",,,well, it's clear that Hiatt needs (and thrives on!) this kind of grit and edginess! An absolute gem!
"It All Comes Back Someday" is a prime example of the ghost haunting Hiatt's work nowadays....it's a nice enough song, but there's nothing about it that makes you go "Yes!" We've heard this melody before...we've heard this vocal before....we've heard this STORY before! To quote Cher in "Moonstruck"...."Snap out of it!"
Things rebound brilliantly with "Wood Chipper." Now, THIS is what I'm talking about! Between the slinky, sly arrangement and smokey lead vocal, things would be good enough, but when you toss in lyrics like "Well, I'm from the Midwest/I know enough to cut a path/Around a wood chipper/And be careful/Of any conversation/A man starts by callin' you skipper?" THIS is what John Hiatt is all about! LOVE it!!!
On the flip side of the coin, we have the droning "My Business." What can I say? This track is 3:00+ of wasted time. It's sort of like a pre-show sound check jam that wanted to be a song when it grew up...but failed. Leave the Blues jams to others, John!
I'm on the fence over "I Just Don't Know What To Say"...on the one hand, once again, this is nothing new...we've heard this all before. On the other hand, the instrumentation is gorgeous (particularly Doug Lancio's guitar and Hiatt's piano), the lead vocal is absolutely heartfelt, and the lyrics are so sweet ("I know you're shocked/At my loss for words/'Cause I can talk/The wings off a hummingbird"). We'll call this one a draw for now!
The next two tracks shine a huge light on Hiatt's main problem...domestic life, be it full of discord or bliss, is starting to wear thin, even boardering on boring. Maybe he needs to take a break from the first person naratives, and write more about those quirky characters he's created in the past. (Or combine the two, like in "Wood Chipper").
Mind you, neither "I Know How To Lose You" nor "You're All The Reason I Need" are bad songs ~ how can you NOT love the line "Then I'm neatly dressed in my emptiness" from "I Know...", while there's a crisp energy to "You're All..." ~ but that's just not enough.
"One Of Them Damn Days" is another Blues romp, but this time it works. The arrangement is equal parts supple, smooth and spicy, while Hiatt's lead vocal is relaxed and assured. There's nothing forced here....things just flow. And I love the line "I was shaking, reaching for my cup/Trying to stir my life around." Nice!
Even nicer is "No Wicked Grin", a lovely ballad. There's an everyman quality to this song that just makes it stand out...honest, real, no sense of filler or spinning wheels...my God, I can't even pick a favorite lyric because every single line is perfection! Neck and neck with "Wood Chipper" in the race for MYSTIC PINBALL's top track.
"Give It Up" has a nice, easy-going groove to it. In the "old days", they would have called this a really strong "album track", and it is, but I think it might be too little, too late. We needed a "Wow!" moment right about now, not a "Nice enough" one. Too bad.
Things wrap up with "Blues Can't Even Find Me." I hate to say it, but Hiatt is almost starting to sound a tad bit....whiny,,,here. (Man it hurts to say that!) And I'm just going to leave it at that.
So, where does John Hiatt go from here? Well, I think he needs to take a little break. Seriously. Keep writing, but no recording for 3-4 years. Do some travelling...observe other people. Get out of his own head (and life). Then, when it's time to record again, A) really edit the song choices, and B) maybe do a duet or two with the likes of Rosanne Cash and Aimee Mann. There are moments on MYSTIC PINBALL that prove John Hiatt's still got it. But moments aren't enough.
(As to the contradictory nature some might think this review has, with me wanting Hiatt to move on, but also to provide us with "classic" Hiatt moments....I think he CAN do both....he needs to stretch, while still embracing his strengths. And, as with all my reviews, I'm giving the disc an extra half a star for including the lyrics).