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The Walkabouts | Ended Up A Stranger (Glitterhouse)
Seattle's Walkabouts have been doggedly releasing alt.country records for over ten years. Their albums are in the double figures but, apart from the dark gothic panoramas of 1994's 'Setting The Woods On Fire', they've never..um..set the woods on fire exactly, producing a steady stream of workmanlike albums tinged with the occasional flash of anger and passion. Their last few records have purveyed a worrisome trend, ironing out the best parts of their sound, relying increasingly on strings and moribund arrangements, placing themselves perhaps at the front of the Soft Rock revival. This album is no different than the ones that came before it, just as no song on 'Ended Up A Stranger' is in any essential way different from the one proceeding it. It starts off well enough, Carla Torgenson's husky vocals declaring "I keep crashing into parked cars / Waiting for a horse and its blue rider" over muted strings and dubby percussion (Lazarus Heart) but, as soon as the chorus comes in, we're in U2 territory and one can almost see the sea of lofted lighters swaying in time. It's as if all the ingredients are here but, somehow, they've been mixed wrong - songs often start out well but then don't go anywhere, like a puppy chasing its own tail. The predictable chord changes in Radiate and See It In The Dark end up sounding like mid-period Fleetwood Mac outtakes, music for Volvo station wagons heading through the country on a Sunday afternoon. It's all too tasteful, sucked dry of any passion or power by the standard arrangements and overwrought vocals. The instrumental Mary Edwards uses samples to mine the kind of funk furrow that Joe Henry's been ploughing lately but it could just as well be piped Ikea music. Only the 'epic' title track achieves the kind of pathos and grandeur that they're evidently looking for and frankly, that's not enough. For those of you who find Ryan Adams and Tim Easton a bit too left field, then this record might be for you.
CWAS #9 - Winter 2002