Butch Walker has the innate ability to put sounds and words together in such a way so that they rattle around in your head for days, months or even years. He writes great hooks and wraps them in endlessly hummable melodies. He’s also quite witty. I still can’t get this verse out of my mind two years after the release of “She Likes Hair Bands”:
She likes hair bands/On satellite radio/But I was in one/So that’s a little too close to home
On his not-so-new album The Spade, Walker and his band The Black Widows serve up thirty-six minutes worth of snarky, semi-autobiographical rants and raves about the past and the present. Its loud, its boisterous, its endlessly catchy, and sometimes it even gets downright bluesy.
The band is at its best when looking back in time to understand the present. At first glance, “Summer Of ’89” seems like a rehash of the “life is all downhill after high school” theme that occasionally litters pop music (see, e.g., “Jack and Diane”) with its rousing chorus:
Can I go back to when/I was the winner/Way before the rain came/And washed away the sinners/Everyone was something and/Nothing was done right or wrong
Walker notes, however, that this is all just useless nostalgia about stoners, minimum wage jobs, high school jocks, fast cars and mindless sex:
Or he’s 46 and alone/Cast the heaviest stone/Suburban cover band playing Bad To The Bone/In a bath tub of meth/You can smell your own death/You know when you can’t look the past in the eye
Heady stuff cast in fist-pumping, anthemic guitar rock:
“Day Drunk” is about how yesterday’s next big thing can turn into today’s also-ran after the supposedly “cool kid” drowns “in a pool of his own hype and beer.”
After a “false start,” “Bullet Belt” begins with a fuzz of bass and Walker singing over a rocking beat about his dad smoking pot in the parking lot at an Iron Maiden concert in Carolina. That where Walker is from: “Maybe I’m not that crazy/I’m just playing with the hand I was dealt/ Maybe I’m not that crazy/Just a chip off the old bullet belt.”
“Synthesizers,” written by band member Jake Sinclair, along with Micheal Trent, runs with the basic theme of doing “what feels right instead of waiting for the next big compromise.” Even better, it talks about the virtues of getting down “like Duran Duran in 1985” and about getting down “like Frank Poncherello on a motor bike”:
The Spade is fun, and a concise listen at only thirty-six minutes. There is no filler. Walker and the band also make some big statements with loud guitars, but without sounding like self-important navel gazers. This is not U2, thank goodness. Its just cool, and funny. So much so that Little Steven picked it as his single coolest album in the world for 2011. Indeed it is.