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He Loves the '70s

 

Josh Rouse: 1972

Rykodisc, 2003

Rating: 3.6

 

 

Posted: September 4, 2003

By Laurence Station

Josh Rouse's 1972 uses the artist's birth year as the springboard for an examination of the Me Decade. Despite the clearly evocative title, however, the album -- Rouse's follow-up to last year's highly regarded Under Cold Blue Stars -- ultimately veers into more universal and non-linear time-space associations regarding faith, hope and the redemptive power of love. In fact, aside from the opening title track and the mood and tempo of several songs, the most 1972 thing about 1972 is the self-consciously groovy cover art and multi-colored design of the liner notes.

The title track, appropriately enough, reflects on the year of the Watergate break-in and benefits nicely from Curt Perkins' delicate piano flourishes. A sense of longing, of being out of touch, permeates lyrics like "She was feelin' 1972" and a subsequent urgency to find "a way out of this hole". Granted, nostalgia is a comfortable place for people looking to escape the pressures of the present tense, but Rouse wisely invests the song with a weariness that intimates that no matter how much one longs for the "good ol' days," such musing won't wholly cure one's ills.

"Love Vibration," by contrast, finds the singer-songwriter on more familiar, relationship-minded turf. But although the song is adorned with the trappings of an early '70s soul number -- benefiting from harmonious Wurlitzer work and infectious, lounge-colored touches -- Rouse uses it to address the broader issue of searching for happiness in an increasingly depressing world: "Find someone to love and understand you," he sings, revealing that the way people communicate and cohabitate is never far from the songwriter's lyrical explorations.

Aside from the excellent "James" -- a Curtis Mayfield-worthy tale of urban woe about a budding alcoholic/womanizer who has abandoned his family -- 1972's best tracks turn up toward the end of the disc. "Sparrows Over Birmingham" employs stripped-down, understated production in its intimate, touching examination of spiritual healing, while the melancholic yet still hopeful closer "Rise" laments "30 years old and nothing's changed" -- a response, perhaps, to the opening track's unanswered question "Could this be all?"

Rouse's missteps are few but notable. "Under Your Charms" tackles the familiar sex-versus-lovemaking issue; is it just carnal release or something deeper when two people get together? Where Marvin Gaye all but demands sexual healing from his partner, Rouse pleads for meaningful physical affection, and the end result is neither inviting nor sexy. "Flight Attendant," meanwhile, belabors a creaky freedom-through-flight metaphor as Rouse attempts to connect the depressed childhood recollections of an airline steward with the liberation that comes from soaring far above those who bullied him as a kid.

1972 has less urgency than Rouse's inconsistent but promising debut, Dressed Up Like Nebraska, and save for the last two tracks doesn't approach the earnest, careworn sublimity exhibited on Under Cold Blue Stars. It is, however, one of his most polished releases, offering colorful arrangements (particularly in its assured use of strings to accentuate the various emotions swirling about) and sturdily held together by a talented backing group. 1972 ultimately doesn't have all that much to do with an era when one could still buy a stamp for less than ten cents. But it reveals an artist still pushing himself in terms of style and content, not falling into a rut or getting hung up on wistful backward glances.

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 Ratings Key:
 5.0: A classic
 4.0-4.9: Stellar work
 3.0-3.9: Worthwhile effort
 2.0-2.9: Nothing special
 1.1-1.9: Pretty bad
 0.0-1.0: Total disaster

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