Cranky George – Fat Lot of Good
Cranky George’s first full length album has been a long time coming. The scheduling conflicts of the band’s personal has curtailed its activities since their debut EP release and the addition of new members necessitated a needed rethink in the band’s musical vision. It is safe to assume, based on the merits of Fat Lot of Good, that any period of adjustment has ended. The fourteen songs on the release have a slightly awe-inspiring uniformity of quality born from the performer’s familiarity with each other, their innate talents, and a sympathetic dynamic that makes collaboration fruitful. Not a single track leaves listeners with any doubt that this band is working on the same page with each other and never at cross purposes. Such across the board, genuine chemistry is rare.
“Tunnel of Love” opens the album with a bit of lyrical cynicism set to a spectacularly inventive arrangement. Cranky George love pulling numerous twists, turns, and tempo shifts out of their magic hats in an effort to keep listeners on their toes, but it’s never just for show. On this song, such transitions perfectly embody the hairpin curves of romance “Perfect Skin” is a little stormier and moodier than the first song, but every bit as musical. Cranky George knows how to orchestrate memorable crescendos and, like the opener, “Perfect Skin” has them in abundance. Another quality that remains consistent here and across the entire album are the song’s excellent lyrics vividly conveying character and voice with only a few choice brush strokes. They venture forth with an arch-traditionalist tune on the narrative driven and nautically themed “Greenland’s Ice”. They pull material like this off exceptionally well because, instead of focusing on the clichés like a lesser group of songwriters, the band embraces songwriting grounded in character and significant details. The vocals are uniformly good, but it’s on songs such as this that they soar with impressive skill and passion.
The inexorable waltz-time swirl of “Waltz in Blue” quickly exerts a hypnotic effect over listeners and Kieran Mulroney’s voice invests the lyrics with a tremendous amount of care and feeling. Romping, uptempo folk with a rock and roll spirit drives “The Man with the Burning Eyes” and the song is another sparkling example of Cranky George’s talent for refurbishing dependable formulas and figures from traditional music for distinctly modern and personal use. The dark harbinger of doom, a mysterious man, is a staple of traditional folk music from any number of traditions and has many antecedents in rock music as well. “Ne Me Quitte Pas” is one of the more interesting numbers on the album’s second half and adopts a very straight ahead tempo that the strings dance over the top of. The vocals have a great deal of entertainment appeal and are full of emotion, but it’s how they play counterpoint to the string that determines much of the song’s ultimate success. Fat Lot of Good ends with “Nighttime”, a return of sorts to the songs listeners heard at the album’s beginning. It has a wide, airy cinematic sound and multiple layers uniting for a series of powerful climaxes. It puts a decisive exclamation point on the first full length album from Cranky George.
9 out of 10 stars.