Michael Head & the Red Elastic Band / Michael Head

Adiós Señor Pussycat

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When thinking of all the great songwriters of the post-Beatles era, the name Michael Head might not come up unless the NME cover that proclaimed him the greatest artist of his time comes to mind. Or maybe the occasional brilliance of the Pale Fountains in the '80s will. Or the consistent brilliance of Shack in the '90s. Or the album he made in the mid-'90s under the name the Strands. His long, scattered body of work has shown him to be classicist (Byrds, Love, Drake) with a broken soul and a heart of gold; able to spin small tales of love and loss set to timeless melodies like few others. His life has been filled with ups and downs with years lost to drugs and drink, but with 2017's Adiós Señor Pussycat, Head is sober and in tip-top musical shape. Working with a loose group of very sympathetic musicians, Head has made an album that will stand next to his best work. The songs are filled with beauty, pain, and redemption, played with restraint and feeling. Whether solo piano ballads or jangling Brit-pop throwbacks, the band is able to bring Head's songs completely to life. The record is split pretty evenly between folky tracks -- built around acoustic guitars, strings, and gentle percussion that have pastoral tenderness dripping off them like morning dew -- and rambling, midtempo pop songs that have layers of jangling guitars and burnished vocal harmonies. Throw in the occasional piano confessional or rollicking sea shanty and Adiós Señor Pussycat ends up being a varied and sonically interesting album that would have been a good listen even if the songs weren't great. They are, though, and Head sings them in a voice made a little rough by time and experience, but not so much that he can't lilt and croon a little, just enough to make it magical. Tracks like the lovely "Rumer" or the rollicking "Overjoyed" could have found a home on any Shack album, the soul-searching "Picasso" or the very Love-inspired "What's the Difference" would have sounded fine on the Strands' LP, and the rest just offer more proof that Head is back from the abyss and just as great as ever. The record may be a step below his best work with the Strands and Shack, but it's not far off and the album is a wonderful slice of modern guitar pop songcraft.

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