Chris Connelly

Phenobarb Bambalam

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AllMusic Review by

Connelly's second album -- recorded with a crack studio lineup consisting of Zechman on bass, PiL vet/Pigface überlord Martyn Atkins on percussion, and Chris Bruce on guitar -- is a dark stunner, and one of the most affecting albums ever recorded. While the connection can be overstated, the album is dedicated to Connelly's fiancée, who killed herself during its recording. Not surprisingly, a shadow of doubt and anguish hangs over much of Phenobarb Bambalam, resulting in some deeply felt work. Not everything is so piercingly sad, though: The opening song, "The Whistle Blower," is actually one of the brightest things he's recorded. Though the album rides a heavy rock groove, Connelly's evocative calls, chants, and whispers lend it an invigorating energy. Bambalam turns down a variety of musical courses: everything from the late-night jazz combo feel of "Too Good to Be True" to the corrosive rage of the lead single, "July." An unexpected touch is a cover of Tom Verlaine's "Souvenir From a Dream," given a brisk arrangement and a fine performance from Connelly. The originals are the keys here, though, and the absolute pinnacle of the album remains his best solo composition yet: "Heartburn," a lengthy blast of powerful, melancholic rock supported by Connelly's central piano motif and his lyrics of doubt, concern, and relentless self-questioning. The second half of the song consists of an extended instrumental coda that serves as a touching return to the central theme. It's a magnificent performance worthy of attention on its own, but the whole album is a winner through and through.

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