It’s perhaps inevitable that the press focuses on Butch Walker’s work as a producer. His resume is stacked with household name artists like Taylor Swift, Katy Perry and Pink. There are plenty of Redrospective favourites too, including Frank Turner, Brian Fallon and Shovels & Rope.
Still, that’s not the reason Butch Walker has been important to me ever since I knew the importance of good music. I was just old enough to see his band Marvelous 3 back in the day and it’s still the best damn show I’ve ever seen.
Countless killer solo shows later proved that was no fluke. Way before I ever had a decent camera or a photo pass, here are a few stills from 16 years of memories. Fitting for a review of an album on which the past is pervasive.
The title track of Walker’s latest album is a statement of intent. It’s bold and anthemic; the kind of song that has you singing along from the very first play. Stay Gold mines themes familiar to fans of The Gaslight Anthem, Dave Hause and Bruce Springsteen. The daily disappointments of dead-end towns are oppressive, but can be countered with reassurance and hope. The message is clear: it gets better.
Throughout the album, the march of time is as ominous as small town traps. With Walker’s 2015 record Afraid of Ghosts, written in the wake of his father’s death, memories are precious and in danger of fading. Only the song 21+, where memories must be trashed, presaged a future enmeshed in the past.
By Stay Gold, memories don’t fade. For all the c-c-c-cocaine stutters and new tattoos, there’s a sense of living up to and living down a reckless youth. The glory days loom large and bittersweet. As Walker sings in Spark: Lost, there’s “nothing left but a memory.” Neither the past nor the present are sanitised, but there’s a warmth to it all, even the tales of drugs and dancers.
Luckily, memories come vibrant as well as wistful. Irish Exit recalls vintage Marvelous 3. It’s playful power-pop with a driving beat and a strong solo – there are hints of rare cut Lefty.
Before the major label foray was Walker’s hair metal stage. As touched on in Ludlow Expectations, the teenage bullet belt acquired an uncanny knack for melody and observation, leaving Walker the master of the dysfunctional love song.
Like fan favourite Cigarette Lighter Love Song, Record Store is sweet, straightforward and sad. It’s as much a love song to a fading record shop culture as it is to a lost love.
Whereas Love Song on Afraid of Ghosts celebrated the possibilities of friends falling in love, Can We Just Not Talk About Last Night is about consequences not romance. Awkwardness, a touch of shame and unresolved feelings linger.
Similarly, Descending is about misunderstandings, and was born of one. Ashley Monroe cut short a conversation with Walker as her plane was landing, leaving him wondering if “we’re descending” referred to the plane or her relationship. Their duet lends a country touch to the album, and Spark: Lost speaks of a move from L.A. to Nashville.
Overall, though, the tone of Stay Gold is reminiscent of the sound Walker helped Brian Fallon create on this year’s standout album, Painkillers. It’s said that old punks go country; it seems that teenage metalhead/power-pop/rockers eventually go Americana.
No matter the style, Walker continues to deliver straightforward sentiments, recollections and regrets cut with hope and passionate musicianship. And long may it continue!
Stay Gold is released in the UK on August 26, 2016. Head to http://lojinx.com/releases/butch-walker/stay-gold for a range of UK store bundles, including rather tempting limited edition gold vinyl! http://Butchwalker.com for more information and U.S. tour dates.
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