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STEVEN BROWN, "HALF OUT"

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Not to minimize the great work that the LTM label has done dusting off the extensive back catalogs of labels like Factory and Les Disques du Crepuscule, but when I hear something like this Steven Brown album, it makes me wonder if their time and energy might be better spent on more worthwhile archival projects. LTM
Brown was, of course, a member of cult avant-garde band Tuxedomoon, the San Francisco collective that pulled up stakes and moved to Belgium in the mid-1980s. Last year LTM reissued a couple of albums by fellow Tuxedomoon alumnus Blaine L. Reininger, and it's actually a little weird how similar Brown and Reininger's solo material sounds, especially considering how little it resembles their work in Tuxedomoon. For their solo projects, both artists developed a distinctly MOR style of urbane, jazzy pop music with literate, world-weary lyrics. Luckily, Blaine L. Reininger's albums were saved by his prodigious talent on strings and his use of neo-baroque chamber quartet orchestrations. Steven Brown has no such saving grace however, and 1991's Half Out, his third solo album, suffers from "adult contemporary" blandness and an annoyingly overcomplicated production style. Each track is filled out with loads of superfluous compositional elements: keyboards, horns, emulators, synthesizers, strings, drum programming, accordion, guitars and backup vocals. It's all a bit exhausting, making relatively minimal tracks like the point-counterpoint "Violorganni" (a duet with Reininger) a welcome respite. For the majority of the album (and the four extraneous bonus tracks), Brown's music seems over-calculated and pseudo-sophisticated, from the tiresome opening monologue ("I've got a million things to say but I forgot. I could write a book but I lost my pen."), to the ill-advised Cole Porter cover ("In the Still of the Night"). In an effort to prove how intellectual and literate he is, Brown name drops Jean Cocteau, randomly breaks into French and Italian, and spins some incomprehensible yarn involving "Willy Loman with his Flemish Reader's Digest." Frankly, it's all a bit pompous, a collection of empty artistic gestures that don't seem terribly substantive. I seriously doubt I'll be giving Half Out another spin any time in the near future. 

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Last Updated on Sunday, 31 July 2005 10:23  


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