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John Vanderslice | Cellar Door (Barsuk)
Taking John Vanderslice's fourth solo album at face value, it would be easy to go ahead and throw another book full of superlatives his way. But 'Cellar Door' isn't deserving of a shoe-in, glowing review, the reason being the naff '80s synthesizers washing gleefully across too many tracks as if he, of all people, needed to go all nostalgic for the worst decade in  the history of rock.
His lyrics are of his usual brilliant standard; snapshots of  bizarre characters mingling in a world going rapidly down the tube on corporate greed. Gunslingers abound: "The Sun rose up over the sea / I staked out and waited / like so many Gunmen before me" and his narrative intimacy and startling descriptions (of various pitiful characters, sometimes himself) remain. But his ability to surprise us time and again with his inventiveness and superior arrangements (take 2002's 'The Life and Death of an American Fourtracker') goes AWOL here. That even his voice should start to grate on these ears as the songs pass by on a cloud of increasing indifference suggest that we might be better off revisiting the Mk Ultra days. Maybe next time.

Torbjørn Wickman
March-April 2004