Jeffrey Lewis & The Voltage – Bad Wiring
Bad Wiring is an electrifying addition to the Jeffrey Lewis canon, and possibly his best studio album yet
Anyone who's had the good fortune to catch New York anti-folk hero Jeffrey Lewis live over the last 20 years will know they're in the presence of something very special. The 43-year-old's slow evolution from DIY footnote in the late 90s to barn-burning indie-rock live sensation has been a joy to behold.
His sharp, literate, and often hilarious songs about city life, everyday occurrences, history, and underground culture are finally getting the sort of acclaim they deserve. It's just reward for a man prepared to use the Cuban Missile Crisis, the French Revolution and the history of Mark E Smith and The Fall as topics for both his songs and their accompanying comic strip narratives.
Condensing Lewis' genius for playing live into the rather more mundane medium of the album has proved more tricky, with the songwriter's habit of forming a new band for each release hardly helping with consistency. With Bad Wiring, the new band name of The Voltage is a bit of a sleight of hand, as the musicians are the same duo – bassist Mem Pahl and drummer Brent Cole – who Lewis has been touring with for the past four years.
Having a solid line-up for a few years in a row has certainly helped, and with the endlessly creative musical variety on display and Lewis' self-confessed want to capture his live dynamism on record, Bad Wiring could be the greatest album of his career to date.
As usual, song topics walk the line between comedy and tragedy. Album opener Exactly What Nobody Wanted is a passionate but self-deprecating affirmation on the subject of great artists that the world missed the boat on. Elsewhere, the potentially troubling lyrical darkness of Depression! Despair! is lightened by the knockabout humour of the call-and-response chorus: 'Depression! Despair! / I'll see you there'.
For those looking for good old fashioned laughs, Lewis obliges with the garage rock of LPs, a genuinely hilarious ode to record collecting ('By 1994 I had completed all my Zeppelin and Floyd / I had all the early Traffic, but their later stuff just made me annoyed'), and the pithy self-analysis of My Girlfriend Doesn't Worry ('My girlfriend doesn't worry about the vision Mao Zedong had for China / Was it agarian reform for the better, or is cynicism just part of our culture?')
While the music itself never strays far from Lewis' usual anti-folk template (although In Certain Orders' spot-on replication of The Cult's mid-80s stadium rock sound is an interesting aside), there's a focus and commitment to make each of these songs sound the best they can. It's a plan that's worked and Bad Wiring is an electrifying addition to the Lewis canon.
Listen to: LPs, Exactly What Nobody Wanted, Take It for Granted