Like his solo debut, Rock 'N' Roll Singer, Mark Kozelek's second album sounds at times like it could be channeling the spirit of Nick Drake. That would typically be a less than surprising depiction considering the terrain, both sonic and emotional, that he has tread throughout his career. But it is an absolutely bewildering discovery when you stop to consider that What's Next to the Moon consists entirely of covers of the heavy, raw riffage of Bon Scott-era AC/DC, for whom "subtlety" didn't even exist as a word. Kozelek, on the other hand, has made an art form of it, and he does nothing less than that on this mesmerizing transmogrification. He is no stranger to idiosyncratic covers, reworking tunes in the past from sources as far afield as Yes, Kiss, and the Cars alongside more like-minded artists such as Neil Young and Simon & Garfunkel. And Rock 'N' Roll Singer already included three AC/DC songs stripped down to their acoustic bones. A whole album of them, however, is startling. Armed with a guitar and his voice alone, Kozelek essentially turns What's Next to the Moon into an acoustic folk/blues album. If you knew nothing of the songs' geneses, they could easily be mistaken for Blind Lemon Jefferson or Leadbelly covers, or perhaps something from the folk revival, Fred Neil or Leonard Cohen (a KCRW radio executive, in fact, insisted the title track was a Cohen song when Kozelek played it first during a live appearance, several years before). But in no way do they recall their creators. It sometimes takes dozens of listens, even if you know the band's oeuvre well, before the connection clicks and the ingenious logic of Kozelek's arrangements reveals itself. Then again, AC/DC was blues-based, so the concept behind the album isn't as off the wall as first appearances would have you believe. The transformation, though, is dramatic, and not the novelty-ish one that it easily could have turned into. Kozelek literally turns the melodies inside out, and extracts a poignancy that even Angus and Malcolm Young and Bon Scott probably had no idea existed in them. When he began, Kozelek might not even have realized. The album was a happy accident, songs remembered from his youth that evolved, sometimes over several years, to the form they take on the album. And there is not a hint of irony to be found throughout. It can momentarily seem eerily perverse when you consider the source -- when you realize, for instance, that the shimmering, downhearted folk tune you are listening to is actually "Bad Boy Boogie." Otherwise it is a spellbinding tribute, with a commanding presence and sustained intensity that most songwriters can't manage even with their own material. Like a reverse version of Bob Dylan and the Band's The Basement Tapes, What's Next to the Moon turns songs that were loose, irreverent, and even silly or one-note in their original readings into songs of timeless beauty and depth, their passions, pains, and torments made agonizingly palpable. The album is probably not the spot in Kozelek's catalog at which to dive in, simply because it doesn't represent his own exceptional songwriting skill, but it is nevertheless another sublime album that offers a curious window into both his musical foundation and inventiveness.
Share this page
AllMusic Review by Stanton Swihart