The Dreams Of Jack Chrome (Ambition)
HE ALWAYS WANTED TO BE AN ACTOR like his old pal and recent collaborator, Rick Springfield, but who knew Russell Morris would go this Method in a thematic album built around the persona of a man who’s been almost literally to hell and has the many scars to show for it?
Among the almost all original tracks here are two covers – though given the radical approaches Morris takes to them it would be more accurate to call them interpretations – one of which is a version of America’s Horse With No Name that takes the song to its logical, though hitherto unseen, point.
Curling in on itself as if conserving its energy in the heat, with more air than bass, and intermittent, Knopfler-esque, guitar lines sent out like exploratory scouts, the song finds Morris (singing as Jack Chrome, a character dancing with, maybe too deeply involved with, death) sounding so parched you might wonder if he’s been riding through the desert for weeks, months … years. There’s been no one to give him no pain, sure, and here he is far from those cursed cities under which “lies a heart made of ground”, but there’s nothing in the shards of that voice that suggests “plants and birds and rocks and things”, only sand and more sand and the prospect of bleached bones.
Regrets? Yeah, he’s got a few, as the next song, It’s A Killer, makes clear in its list of things that went wrong after a life lived “Burning the candle at both ends/On your back maybe some of your friends”. Money is gone, he’s got no coat in the rain, and everything is coming at him while he is “feeling like you just being feathered, and tarred, and you’re losing your guard”. That blues guitar probing the space isn’t crushed; it’s still standing, it’s still looking forward, but it has a load in that emotional rucksack.
The Jack Chrome we met a year ago, a figure inhabited by both Morris and Rick Springfield alternating songs and performance on the Mexican Day Of The Dead-inspired album Jack Chrome And The Darkness Waltz, was a complex creature in whom menace was a key throughline, but not the only characteristic.
In his reappearance, this time without co-conspirator Springfield, Chrome feels more battered and worn down, like the line between the dead and the living that disappears on the Day Of The Dead is actually tyre burn marks right through his soul. In Morris’ clipped, dime store novel language – jukeboxes, wicked sons, seedy hotels and “a swirling world of madness” – the picture is painted of a life whose bills are falling due. And Chrome is not flush with funds, or faith in his future wherewithal.
Jaws Of Defeat, which is like a Neil Young busted flush ballad given the smallest touch of Phil Spector dramatics, keeps its head bowed over the piano even when a flourish appears; the fragile, Aznavour-ish torch song, Pulse Of A Lover, puts its hand out almost apologetically as if Chrome can’t wholly believe in the “grand connection” he says exists; and the other cover, Jumpin’ Jack Flash, talks a good talk of defiance and devilish roots, but within the plucked strings and light snare shuffle there’s more than a hint of boredom turning into ennui.
This isn’t about giving up, but it is about coming face-to-face with the reality of intentions proving irrelevant in the face of something that that isn’t a foe – because life generally doesn’t give a shit what you think of it – but rather is an inexorable force.
By the time the final track, Re-Occurring Dream, begins with a long deep breath that might well be acceptance, there is a sense of completion. Earth-bound piano and slide encounter some distant angelic guitars like an unlikely echo of Cocteau Twins, the memory of a love followed with hope but now out of reach “in the dark of the town” hovers over the cracked but now steadfast voice, and the feeling of grit being washed through but never completely out of his shirt, his hair, his life, sticks.
They’re not going away, “those dreams that play those tricks on my mind/The journey that never ends”, in a desert, or otherwise.
APPLE MUSIC: Listen to Russell Morris – The Dreams Of Jack Chrome