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King of Meshugganahs
on 14 April 2014
It's ironic that, to this day, Chuck E. Weiss is probably still better known for Rikki Lee Jones's song about him in 1979 than for any of his own music.
His long-time buddy Tom Waits, along with Johnny Depp (yes, that Johnny Depp), together "executively produce" this new album, and Depp also pops up on guitar, drums or backing vocals on four of the tracks.
Musically Weiss still inhabits that same beatnik boho world that Waits left behind in the early eighties. If you're among those who still mourn that particular left turn, then Chuck E. Weiss may well be the man for you.
No-one ever pretended that Weiss was any kind of great singer and here he growls, scats and often simply talks his way through what is only his fifth album in thirty something years, but it's right up there with his best. Almost impossible to categorise, Weiss presides as usual over a crazy mishmash of seemingly incongruous styles that shouldn't make any sense as a whole, but somehow does.
As politically incorrect as ever, `The Hink-A-Dink' ("Deep in the jungle where the coconut grows / there's a cool li'l chieftain with a bone in his nose") descends into a voodoo-type chant in Dr John style, whilst the piano-driven "Oo Poo Pa Doo In The Rebop" also tips its hat in the direction of the Night Tripper.
"Hey Pendejo" is a toe-tapping, light-hearted Tex-Mex sing-along that craftily belies the insult in its lyrics, "Exile On Main Street Blues" starts off as a pastiche of an early solo acoustic country blues before the rest of the band break in after about a minute, transforming it into a spirited blues/rock workout, while "Boston Blackie" is a wryly amusing slice of infectious grunge.
Most remarkable of all from a man not normally known for taking life too seriously is "Bomb The Tracks", in which Weiss laments the failure of the allies in WWII to bomb the railway lines to the extermination camps ("You were too busy in the other fronts and places? Good God, I find that hard to believe"). Welded to some insistent, growling, industrial guitar courtesy of Tony Gilkyson it fades out to a chilling "Last stop! End of the line!" In sharp contrast to the usual Weiss wackiness, this is strong stuff.
And that wackiness? Look no further than "Willy's In The Pee Pee House", a kind of second cousin once removed from Weiss's uproarious "Sneaky Jesus".
Quite unlike anything else out there (with the emphasis firmly on the "out there"), you'll either love this album, or you're going to hate it. But you shouldn't ignore it.