Brian Setzer

The Knife Feels Like Justice

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After the Stray Cats broke up for the first of several times in 1984, guitarist and frontman Brian Setzer seemed determined to prove he could do a lot more than make like Eddie Cochran, and his first solo set was 1986's surprisingly ambitious The Knife Feels Like Justice. Leaving his rockabilly influences at home for the time being, Setzer reinvented himself as a thoughtful heartland rocker on this set, which shows clear influences of Bruce Springsteen and John Mellencamp's work of the period, and his snappy retro guitar work was replaced by the jangly peal of a Rickenbacker, though his fretwork was no less impressive in this new context, especially on the rollicking "Radiation Ranch" and the atmospheric title cut. Setzer also dipped his toes into old-school R&B on "Bobby's Back," and demonstrated a previously unaired concern for social justice on "Maria" and "Aztec"; while Setzer's songwriting wasn't always quite as sharp as the folks he clearly emulated, there's a heart and sincerity to this material that's genuine and affecting, even when his lyrics lean to the obvious. Don Gehman's production dates this set (especially the Lucite-coated sounds of Kenny Aronoff's drums), but it's a rare example of Setzer taking a stab at contemporary rock & roll with a message, and it is more successful than anyone might have expected; it didn't take him long to edge back into the influences of the past on his next few releases, but The Knife Feels Like Justice is evidence that Setzer's muse could have followed other paths and still created something memorable.

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