Saturday, August 18, 2012

Heat Treatment (1976)

I'm not always sure about Graham Parker but I am always sure about this one, which I really, really like. Sometimes, often, I forget how good it is, and then I happen to play it again. The songs sound like pure stuff of life experience, unadorned and unpretentious, unbowed above all. Taking chances and constantly pulling it off. Example: "Black Honey," which is about as awkwardly unself-consciously racially odd as the title immediately suggests. It's not exactly PC, but it's not exactly not either. The ache in Parker's voice obviates everything except the unbelievable grace he applies. It's in my soul. That's what he sings—"Oh, black honey's in my soul"—and that's what the experience of hearing it feels like. It's remarkable what he does, covering great plains of emotional territory (and then following it with a song called "Hotel Chambermaid," another good one, they're all good ones). I am frankly surprised that Heat Treatment is generally considered comparable to its companion piece from the same year, Howlin' Wind, which admittedly is a pretty good first album, with Parker's destiny already half written: blowing up with punk-rock (but linked more directly to its immediate predecessor, pub-rock), angry, defiant, and got its chin out, tender/bruised style, and all wrapped up in a blaze of horn-driven Memphis soul stew straight outta the UK. Howlin' Wind is good but Heat Treatment is amazing, really. I have returned to it many times, surprised to find the same kick always there waiting for me. What is it? Something about the scrappy working-class manner, I guess—literally, I guess. Something about his singing. Something about the way he locks in with the band. I don't know why I love this, I just do. Parker would ultimately find his place in the New Wave angry-young-Brit rotation also occupied by Elvis Costello, Ian Dury, and others (even, a little, that saint of pure good nature, Nick Lowe). Parker's best stuff to me always has a certain edge of desperation that is not particularly fashionable and certainly not pretty. He sounds truly denied, and fighting back, and I respect that and take it as a model for living too. It just somehow gets me where I live. At least before the '80s, Parker seemed to have a genuine knack for how to use a whole rock band as an instrument, or maybe the Rumour just happened to play it that way because he and they could. This is a great meeting of artist and band, one of the best. You can go right down the line here, song by song. The whole thing barely lasts half an hour, with 10 songs. But they just really tear up the joint.

1 comment:

  1. Great album! Parker was on fire at the beginning of his career. The first two albums were great, the third album's highlights were great, the fourth (studio) album was great. We saw him ... well, it was either at the show which was later released as Live in San Francisco 1979 or the day before, I can't remember ... he and the Rumour were sensational.

    After that? I guess I'll fall back on my Theory of the Trajectory of Rock Star's Careers. Squeezing Out Sparks came when he was 29.