Considering that Ivan Julian has been working as a professional musician for over 30 years (he started in 1977 as one of two guitarists in Richard Hell's legendary Voidoids), it's strange that this is the first album released under his own name. He's fronted some outfits (the Outsets) and worked with everyone from the Clash (on Sandinista!) and Shriekback to Matthew Sweet, but this stands as his official debut and it makes you wish he would have begun his solo career a lot earlier. It's a wildly diverse disc, spinning from the Hell-styled spastic agit-punk of "A Young Man's Money" to the droning psychedelia of the Stranglers-styled "The Beat," the ominous acoustic Appalachian blues of "You Is Dead," and a closing Hendrix-inspired, clustered, distorted guitar freakout called "Godiva." Julian doesn't have a great voice but it's effective and distinctive in the same way that Lou Reed's and Tom Verlaine's are, and it's perfect for these dark urban tales. The project originated when Julian mixed an album for Argentinian indie band Capsula, who afterwards not only encouraged him to go on the road and volunteered to be his backing group for a Spanish tour, but took his demos and fleshed them out to become the basic tracks of these songs. The end result sounds not nearly as disjointed as it would seem from the way the music was constructed. Everything grinds with a tough, hungry, hairy undercurrent reminiscent of the best early N.Y.C. punk mixed with somewhat bluesy strains. Melodies lash out with an edgy snap revealing tense New York grime injected into tunes like "Hardwired" and "Constricted" that combine shadowy foreplay with a Velvet Underground/Dream Syndicate payoff. Julian sounds much younger than he is, taking full advantage of this long-awaited frontman opportunity to unleash a snarling album that reverberates with the gritty streetwise vibe of his hometown. The Naked Flame recalls an earlier time, yet its exposed fire burns with the heat and intensity of a veteran rocker who has been there, done that, and is ready for his turn in the spotlight.
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AllMusic Review by Hal Horowitz