Spencer Dickinson – The Man Who Lives For Love
The man on the cover is flashing me the ace of hearts, so you know what that means! He lives for love, for he is the man who lives for love. He also apparently lives for chubby keyboardists, speeding tickets, and shootouts at gas stations according to the illustrations behind the late stage Jim Morrison look-alike. Along with the retro design and songs like “Zigaboo” and “(Chug Chug) It’s Not OK”, this looked to be a record worth a spin just to see what kind of colorful tale I’d get wrapped up in. Of course, if the background illustrations showed puppies sleeping, a few math equations and Christopher Walken, I’d probably still buy the record. I’m pretty easy to impress.
Spencer Dickinson is actually a side project for Jon Spencer (of Jon Spencer’s Blues Explosion) and Luther & Cody Dickinson (of the North Mississippi All-Stars), so these guys bring a solid background of rock and blues with them. At nineteen tracks, this concocted group apparently had a lot to get on record that couldn’t be done with their usual bands, which is quickly apparent given the eclectic mix of style throughout the album. Some of the songs could be placed with either group, but some are just completely out there. I guess that’s what side projects are for, right?
“That’s a Drag” begins the album with a powerful blues guitar chug, with Spencer singing as if in personal pain. If one had to think of what an Explosion/All-Stars song would sound like, this gritty and straightforward rocker is it. With “I’m Not Ready” following in a similar vein, one may begin to think that Spencer Dickinson is just another predictably enjoyable blues rock album (sort of like the Black Keys and every record they have ever released). But no, as “Zigaboo”s jilting changes in tempo and addition of organ attests, these guys didn’t get together to pass the usual time. Spencer Dickinson’s momentum from the first two strong tracks takes a heavy sedative with the lulling slide guitar on “Body (My Only Friend)”. Spencer has even lost all of that early punch as he mumbles and whines his lyrics in this five minute journey.
And so it goes. With every tune that sounds like it’s a solid blues rock moment, there is one that causes one to rub one’s eyes. “Primitive” sounds like a trucker on a CB radio losing his mind over the course of the song. Can’t understand a word Spencer’s mumbling or screaming over the fuzz, can’t get past the jolting guitar pops, and can’t find a bit of replayability in the tune itself. That song couldn’t get over with fast enough, though I do know what to play if someone asks me to a recommend them a song that would devolve them into madness. “Flood (The Awful Truth, the Living End)” is collision of singing and shouting that culminates in a dismal screech-a-rific ending.
I suppose when nineteen tracks are compiled there are going to be duds, but there are a few particularly fun ones. “Sat Morn Cartoons” is two minutes of guitar solo aggression while “Love Without a Smile” is definitely a toe-tapper with its excellently peppy pace near the middle of the song. The funky title track has the lyric “I wanna mashed potato/down on my knees”, which illuminates the light-hearted feel that Spencer Dickinson delivers on the tune. Truly, if the guys just shaved off seven or so iffy tracks this would be a very strong album with all the good music on the record. I am not sure if that goal was really on their mind when Spencer Dickinson put this album together, though.
Since this is a side project that defines the term ‘off and on’, there isn’t a whole lot to go to on the Internet for them. However, you can listen to a few tracks by Spencer Dickinson on Last.fm.
The group that is Spencer Dickinson has only put out two records, with this one in 2006 and the previous one in 2001. Since nearly seven years passed after “The Man Who Lives For Love”, the slide guitar on this side act may have been put away. That may be even more evident with the fact that Jon Spencer’s main act has ended their lengthy hiatus (begun two years before this record), so one half of this side project may not feel that itch to dabble with the Dickinsons for awhile. Then again, if the point of Spencer Dickinson is to just be something to do when the main players want to get nonsensical and crazy, they might bring back the man and his ace of hearts. However, if they wait too long they’ll have to name the new album “The Man Who Lives For the Early Bird Special” or “The Man Who Lives For Grandkids”. Everybody, start brainstorming ideas for that fetching album cover…