Album Review - Walter Egan: Apocalypso Now
by Jason MacNeil
Walter Egan has been around the musical block more than once. After having one of his songs, "Hearts on Fire", recorded by Gram Parsons and Emmylou Harris, the musician and artist released his debut album in 1977. Throughout the '80s, he did stints as a VJ on MTV, had some television and motion picture work and some art exhibits. Now, after doing some work with a country rock group called the Brooklyn Cowboys, Egan returns with an interesting album where he is basically a one-man band. Beginning with the somewhat funky and eclectic sound on "Far and Away", Egan has a voice that isn't the easiest to adore much in the way of Warren Zevon. The song has a certain punch to it, but for most of the song, the arrangement is far too safe for a great payoff.
"Love Is in Your Veins" starts off slow, but has what appears to be a nice mid-tempo catch to it, resembling Mark Knopfler or a sedated Tom Petty. The echo effects of Egan's voice blend well with the quirky and quasi-Eastern guitar influences. But generally it would make for a much stronger beginning than its predecessor would. Unfortunately, though, there tends to be an inconsistency to the early portion, especially on the spacey keyboards that move into an acoustic folk ballad. Egan might consider using some horns in some of the songs because not only would they round out the sound, but definitely complement his voice. The song has a winding trait within, never really finding its footing until two-thirds of the way into the number. And only then only briefly. "Stubborn Girl" has a galloping and prowling quality to it, the bass and rhythm section working wonders while Egan nails the song over an Attractions-like keyboard, creating one of the album's best tunes.
Perhaps what sets Egan apart from most of his contemporaries is his refusal to stay with what works, attempting to work instead with what rubs some listeners the wrong way. "Time and the Rain" is just an example, with Egan trying to croon his way through this breezy, Jimmy Buffett calypso feeling. The backing harmonies generally work, but the lyrics are bland at best. "There'll be sunlight breaking through on your smile", Egan sings before a cheesy guitar solo comes to the fore. Egan could be compared to Canadian folk icon Bruce Cockburn as both tend to shine just under the popular music surface, but Egan suffers a bit from his choice of songs. "Only Love Is Left Alive" sounds as if it was recovered from a slick, over-produced late-'80s pop compilation. The use of keyboards here only diminishes the song, resulting in a mixed blessing.
Egan picks himself up again with a nice and lovable acoustic folk opening on "Better Days". A sparse backing section allows him to strut his stuff with some minimal harmonies. A cover of the Byrds/Gene Clark track "The Reason Why" maintains most of the original's feeling, with Egan giving an average delivery on the tune. "Wanting You" has a slow blues touch but again the ridiculous and outdated keyboard and xylophone touches make it sound passť. Which is sad given that he offers up one of his better songs on the baker's dozen served up. "You Pay for Love" is another singer/songwriter ballad which evolves (devolves?) into another larger sounding pop rock track that is nearly barren of emotion.
The last few songs are symptomatic of the highs and lows that thread the album. Sounding like a hell-raiser and a tad like Elvis on "You're Gonna Miss Me", the song is a rock track that doesn't lose gas despite some guitar solos that get in the way of the murky vocals. "Lullaby", one would assume, shows a softer side to Egan. And for once the listener is correct. It's a decent finisher for a record that has some decent highs and one or two miserable lows.