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Grant-Lee Phillips | Mobilize (Zoe)
'It's up to you'. That's what it says when you lift the cd out of the clear holder. As all the album was written and played by Grant, he clearly means it. Opening with See America, a continuation from Fuzzy that even borrows the same riff and continues his disillusionment at his own land, "coughing up a lung of steam.... All these cracks for me to slip into." His views on Humankind aren't much better ?? "and the point of my life is what?," before slipping into a glorious chorus, his rising, cracking voice lifting from the rhythm to repeat "heartless now" as if it were a love song. Despite not having a band behind him doesn't diminish the sound, there's more going on for this album than last years 'Ladies' Love Oracle'. Most of the drums sound machined, but intentionally. The instruments are subdued, background keyboards and occasional guitar bursts chug along providing a dispassionate platform for his main asset, that voice - a languidly smooth falsetto that can break into a howl without warning, or purr like a kitten with equal ease. The only thing really lacking is a brooding bassline, but maybe it's best to skip over that! Even on some of the rockier tracks it never really menaces, and that's a problem, it lacks bite at some points. The thumping timpani on We All Get A Taste seems meek in the background and you really want the track to take off, but it only limps into the air, even so, still going higher than most can hope for. Grant even shakes his booty on Spring Released, but you get the impression that he's not a great mover, even if he's keen. The slower tracks fare better, Lazily Drowning has a darkness in Grant's multi-tracked vocals and eerie e-bow, while Like A Lover has a fine Steve Earle quality of hopelessness that has no signs of redemption, like a man digging a deeper hole in the hope it might lead to a light. Trying to follow that was never going to be easy and the title track gives up easily, instead it's up to Beautiful Dreamers to put things to rights with it's mix of chunky and wibbly keyboards that whirl off in pursuit of Grant's voice when the chorus kicks in. Such happiness is brought back down to earth with Sleepless Lake, a cold tale "bluer than the winter wind that howls" and "grief, banished by the glow (of) electric dying Autumn" sung with such beauty it can't fail to warm you. The following April Chimes continues the thaw, "wilting yellow in the sun" and closing in a dreamy spin. "You'll love again" he assures us, moments before fading away, leaving you to ponder his words. Will you? I guess it is up to you, but it'll be easier if he ditched the drum machine. It's hard being a one-man army and, despite the odd blip, Grant's still a force to be reckoned with.

Laurence Arnold
CWAS #9 - Winter 2002