This disc is as difficult to classify as its main architect is. Is this a Punk disc? If so, then what's the keyboard guy from Blue Oyster Cult doing playing on a couple of the songs? Is it a straight early 80's Rock album? Not with scorching guitar sounds, unconventional vocals and brutally "street" New York subject matter like this. Is it some sort of hip-hop precurser? No way, although reporting on life in the seedy urban jungle, as this disc does constantly, later became a rap music hallmark. And this Jim Carroll guy--confessional author? bowery poet? former junkie? lead singer of a smokin' band? This disc gives an emphatic "all of the above" answer to these questions. The disc occupies a rare stand-alone subcategory in the Rock world that defies further pigeon-holing, and its intensity and drive make it one of the best things to ever crawl out of New York in the past 22+ years.
Jim's singing is actually 80% Lou Reed-style speak-singing (mostly in tune with the music) , with about 20% of Bob Dylan's "Blonde on Blonde" era phrasing and tendency to change the pitch upward at the end of a phrase thrown in for good measure. The words matter to Jim: his voice is mixed up front, and he speak-sings clearly to make sure you get what he's written. He even repeats the entire lyrics of "Three Sisters" and "People Who Died" twice. The words are funny, thought-provoking, harrowing, surreal and sometimes disturbing. There are lots of strange vignettes taking place on the lower side of New York life. There are clever double meanings and quoteable rejoinders. There are no 'We're Gonna Rock Tonight' songs, no songs about cars, no 'I Want You, Baby' songs--the disc is nearly free of Rock cliches. Here's a witty example of his writing from the song "Three Sisters"---read this and think about whether he's describing a woman, or whether just maybe this 'Miranda' refers to the rights that the police are required to advise to suspects:
"Though I don't understand her/I love my sister,her name is Miranda/the boys from Uptown, they can't stand her/ the more she denies them, the more they demand her/ but she just wanna lay in bed all night, reading Raymond Chandler".
The music is clearly Punk-influenced, but this isn't a total screaming thrash-fest, as American early 80's Punk had become. The two-guitars-bass-drums lineup are augmented at times by the afore-mentioned keyboards and even a sax on "City Drops Into the Night". "Day and Night" sounds positively mainstream with its female backing vocals, slow tempo and sythesizer wash, and almost seems out of place with the rest of the material--like maybe the record company wanted a song to promote as a single. The grittier sounds of the guitars prevail in most songs. The tempos are fast, the soloing miminal, and the production packs a solid whallop. "City Drops Into the Night" seems to be about twice as long as it needed to be to make its point, but other than this minor lull, the disc demands your attention and is hard driving right up the the final abrupt cutoff at the end of "Catholic Boy". The match with the lyrics/vocals is exceptionally good.
This is an overlooked but highly recommended disc from the dawn of the 80's that is sure to provide you with riveting listening material for years to come. It's a must for Manhattan-ites and those planning to visit. It's also the undisputed pinnacle of the short (three albums total) career of the Jim Carroll Band. His 'best of' collection has eight of these ten songs-- that's a clear sign that this disc is really all you need.