Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Album Review: Lipke Goes "Home"

Andrew Lipke seems to always find some music-related endeavor to keep him busy and make his name one to throw around on the Philadelphia scene. One such pursuit is his career as a solo artist who blends singer/songwriter conventions with rockier elements, as exemplified by his new album The Way Home… (MAD Dragon Records). Home, his second album and his first to be released through a record label, was produced by Jim Klein but Lipke is all over it—he wrote the songs, he did the arrangements, he participated in the engineering and mixing processes, and he played several of the instruments himself. Of his many talents, songwriting is his strongest, but there is much to be said about him as a singer. His voice is oddly captivating, ranging from a manly, sonorous baritone to a fragile, elastic tenor and a spine-tingling falsetto. As both a songwriter and a vocalist, he displays an impressive amount of versatility, and his arrangements grab the listener’s attention by playing acoustic and electric instruments off each other, often making effective use of strings to enhance the drama of his songs.

The album opens strongly with the dark, brooding rocker “Untitled Song #1,” featuring a deranged vocal and surprisingly vicious lines such as “I wanna see you bleed and know that you still can” and “I wanna lock you up, I wanna watch you growing old and watch you die.” The motivational “Check Your Mirror” is brightened by an upbeat melody and Lipke’s fluid rockabilly guitar work, while the poetic, meditative “Green Street” has a warm domestic feel which undoubtedly came about because he wrote it with his wife Myriah. “The Fire” is a remake of a heart-wrenching rock ballad from his debut album, Ghosts, but this version gets a much more assured performance and an arrangement that truly complements Lipke’s vocals. “Stick By You” is a nifty little back porch ditty whose sarcastic lyrics read like the dark underbelly of standard marriage vows (here’s hoping he’s never sung this one to Myriah), while he stretches the limits of his upper register to devastating effect on the acoustic “My One And Only”; just try not to be moved when he casually tosses off lines like “the blood will drain away and the pain will slowly fade.”

“Standing Over You” is this decade’s “Hey Jude,” creeping up on you quietly with surprisingly-placed hooks, building gradually to a hypnotic, symphonic rideout. Music scribes live for tracks like this: anthemic and instantly accessible, with an outstanding vocal performance and production. It should be all over the radio and blasting out of car stereos everywhere across America. The odds are that it won’t reach such heights, but one can at least hope for a healthy number of (legal) downloads on this tune.

There isn’t a bad song on The Way Home…, but there are some selections that pale slightly in comparison to their album-mates. Though “Sideways Dreaming” and “Moving Back To Paradise” contain vivid lyrical imagery, they are rather vague attempts at social commentary and simply don’t have the same sharpness as Lipke’s songs about relationships. (“Paradise” is pleasing to the ears, however, capturing some of the feel of Pearl Jam’s “World Wide Suicide” but with greater sonic complexity.) “Downtrodden” would have been an exciting piece of alternative rock ten years ago; now, it’s just cozily familiar. Then there’s the closing track, “It’s Gone Out,” which is credited to Lipke but is more likely the result of a long-forgotten collaboration between Andrew Lloyd Webber and Count Dracula. It’s actually quite good on its own terms, with grandiose vocals and bone-chilling lyrics: “In the garish light of picture perfect hindsight, all the cloudy parts are clear.” But as a stark piano-driven ballad, it just doesn’t fit with the warmer, guitar-based sound of the rest of the album. Still, The Way Home… is a strong offering overall, and one of those rare albums that smartly bridges the gap between the admittedly hard-to-pinpoint subgenres of “singer/songwriter” and “alternative rock.” If you prefer to buy CDs instead of digital downloads, be sure to pop your disc into your computer for lyrics and intriguing interview material with Mr. Lipke himself.

For music and more information:

[Note: At the time of this writing, The Way Home... is available on iTunes, but with the tracks listed in a different order from the CD version.]

Copyright © 2007 S.J. Dibai. All rights reserved.