Eskimo Joe

Black Fingernails, Red Wine

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    7
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AllMusic Review by

There is a darker atmosphere on this album that was only hinted at on the band's previous releases. Turning to the gothic era of the '80s, you can almost smell the eye-liner as Eskimo Joe echo the Smiths, INXS and the Cure. Bizarrely, it doesn't make the album sound dated at all, the band has merely infused these influences with its own 21st century sensibilities, taking back the production reigns for, arguably, their strongest album. While there are still rock bursts of guitars, bass, and drums, the Australian trio of Kav Temperley, Joel Quartermain, and Stuart MacLeod show a heavier reliance on keyboards here, which is apparent from the opening lines of "Comfort You" until the final sustained piano notes of closing track "How Does It Feel." This is one of the main factors contributing to the moodier theme; another is the direction the lyrics have taken. The title track, one of the album's best, displays an ambivalent observation of the world around us: "The argument over God continues/In this house/All of us stand and point our fingers" and the puzzling first line of the wonderfully catchy "Sarah": "Sarah/Won't you tell me your name?" signifies a desire to lead the listener in a new direction. Previously rooting themselves in Fremantle for their 2004 album A Song Is a City, the band visit the U.S. and the U.K. for the melancholy pop of "New York" and the painful ballad "London Bombs," both well-crafted songs full of hooks (although lead singer Kav sounds like he is singing "London balms" and he "should have stayed in Baird" rather than bed). In spite of the dark mood of the album, it doesn't sink to a depressing level, as the energy of the music keeps it listenable and enjoyable. Songs like "Suicide Girl" and "Breaking Up" offer the opportunity to sing along in spite of the bleak imagery of the words. The only major misstep is the pointless "Reprise" which, as the name suggests, is just a slow instrumental reprise of "Comfort You," a track that only has three lines of repeated lyrics. Eskimo Joe have yet to deliver the album they are capable of making (the band's strength seems to be singles), but overall it's worth a listen. Though some of the material isn't instantly memorable, there is a lot of lyrical depth and a definite sense of attack and structure -- something which was missing from their first two releases.

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