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Under the Sun

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Album Review

Gordon Gano has been a spokesman for the outer limits of teenage angst since the Violent Femmes cut their landmark debut album in 1982, but you can keep doing only so much with your adolescent fears and obsessions once you're in your mid-forties. Add into this the apparent breakup of the Violent Femmes (the band hasn't announced a split, but the fact bassist Brian Ritchie filed a lawsuit against Gano in 2007 for half-ownership of the band's song catalog and an unspecified amount of unpaid royalties doesn't speak well for the group's future) and it's clearly time for Gano to do a bit of self-reinvention. Gano brought in a crew of alt rock all-stars to handle nearly all the vocals on his first solo album, 2002's Hitting the Ground, but while Gano has given his key collaborators, Billy Ryan and Brendan Ryan of the Bogmen, co-starring billing on his second solo set, Under the Sun, this time around he's put himself front and center, and it's very much the broadly eclectic set he couldn't have made with his old band, for good or ill. Under the Sun is an album of tight, energetic, and edgy pop music that bears no musical resemblance to the punk-folk hybrid Gano helped create with the Femmes, running the gamut from the lean, nervous funk of "Wave and Water" and the subtle country accents of "Hired Gun," to the updated Eastern European mazurka of "Oholah Oholibah." While Gano's vocals have lost a few of their rough edges over time, he still sounds very much like himself on Under the Sun, with a more measured version of the same vocal affectations that have always been his trademark, though lyrically, these tunes sound a lot less like personal journal entries than imaginative short stories, focusing less on paranoia than various strange stories involving an interesting cast of characters. Gano's eccentricities clearly haven't left him, as the manic, toidy humor of "The Way That I Creep," the intra-family violence of "Red," and the Biblical perversity of "Oholah Oholibah" confirm, but he's also able to make more of them musically than he has with the Femmes for quite some time, and if this music is much busier and more showy than Gano's usual backdrops, the (relatively) more mature feel of these songs fits the Ryan Brothers' accompaniment just fine. Hitting the Ground suggested Gordon Gano hadn't figured out just what he wanted to do with himself outside of the Violent Femmes, but Under the Sun confirms he's mapped out a new course for himself, and with some help, he's headed out to new places worthy of investigation.

Under the Sun, Gordon Gano & The Ryans
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