Pete Atkin

A King at Nightfall

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Pete Atkin's third album -- his first for RCA -- is the most fully realized and instantly likable of all his '70s recordings, yet it met the same cruel fate as all the rest. Here both Atkin and his lyricist, Clive James, set out their stall as never before. The remarkable scope of James' approach to his art can be gauged by contrasting just two tracks. Firstly, there's the savage depiction of U.S. soldiers both relishing and brutalized by the massacre of Vietnamese villagers in "All the Dead Were Strangers" ("Just lying there were ladies so old they hardly bled/Thin kids who never needed a red hole in the head/We were all in this together, we were friends/But all the dead were strangers"). At the other extreme there's "Screen Freaks," a wistful waltz -- with a melody not a million miles from the Engelbert Humperdinck smash "Release Me" -- consisting of an affectionate litany of movie references ("The Ambersons have spiked the punch and livened up the ball/Cagney's getting big and Sidney Greenstreet's getting small/The Creature from the Black Lagoon left puddles in the hall/And Wee Willie Winkie is the most evil of them all"). But most richly satisfying of all is "Thirty Year Man," a tender depiction of an aging jazz pianist reduced to backing some kid singer to earn a buck. ("And it isn't my name that brings them in/It's a little girl just starting to begin/It's her they're piling in to see/And I'd kill that kid, if she wasn't killing me"). When fans start tugging on your coattails about the importance of listening to the words, it's usually time to head for the hills. But this is not your standard-issue rock profundity, whereby cosmic significance emerges only after intensive study and no little self-deception. This marriage of old-school craftsmanship with modern-day self-expression is pretty much unparalleled in the rock canon, and it finds a perfect vehicle in the ever ingenious melodies of Atkin.

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