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Ian McCulloch 

Slideling

Wednesday, May 21 2003
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Anyone tuning in to Ian McCulloch's latest solo album expecting to hear another Echo & the Bunnymen release will likely be a tad disappointed. Though McCulloch, that group's singer, is only in his mid-40s, Slideling could be seen as his counterpart to Frank Sinatra's September of My Years, made when Ol' Blue Eyes was nearing 50. The two albums share a palpable sense of solitary contemplation, assessing the sounds and experiences of the artists' formative years without forsaking the present or the future. McCulloch's nostalgic, devotional "Playgrounds and Parks" deserves to become a standard (take note, George Jones and Tony Bennett), if only for the self-deprecating verse, "I knew I'd never leave the street/ I love the taste of self-defeat/ You never win/ And you can't beat what's broken." McCulloch's forceful, angst-filled, Jim Morrison-esque yowl has given way to a mellower, more relaxed near-croon, recalling ballad-mood Dylan and a smoother Lee Hazlewood. Musically, he seems to favor the direct approach: The disc mostly features the same lean, efficient, unfussy guitars-and-keyboards band, eschewing the solo-album model of including a half-dozen hip "guest stars" and second bananas. The songs all have wistfully engaging, 1960s-referencing melodies to pull you in: "High Wires," for example, echoes the Velvet Underground (McCulloch considers the group a major inspiration), with its "Sister Ray"-flavored guitar hook and "some kinda love" chorus. The compassionately seductive "Baby Hold On," meanwhile, has a bass riff "borrowed" from Lou Reed's "Walk on the Wild Side," plus some of the hazy/lazy summertime afternoon ambience of Tommy James & the Shondells' "Crystal Blue Persuasion." Fortunately, Slideling never comes down to a cynical round of "spot the influences" -- its participants' bombast-free approach and the pensive, understated devotion of McCulloch's singing see to that.

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Mark Keresman

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