The Listener

Imagine ZZ Top stuck in a lift with Gary Numan: Sturgill Simpson’s Sound & Fury reviewed

12 October 2019

9:00 AM

12 October 2019

9:00 AM

Grade: A–

The outlaw country genre has shifted a little over the decades since Waylon and Willie, with each proponent trying to out-badass each other, the guitars getting louder, the lyrics either more obtuse or (in the case of David Allan Coe) more obscene. This takes it all one stage further. I don’t think Sound & Fury would go down too well at the Grand Ole Opry: it is more Seattle than Nashville, 40 minutes of howling rawk guitar, ferocious boogies and cheap synths. It sounds, at times, like ZZ Top stuck in a lift with Gary Numan. Grunge, blues, heavy metal, all rendered darkly as if Mark Lanegan were somewhere in the mix. Some reviews have suggested that it is ‘funk’, but I think it is only funky if you come from the east of Germany and your template for such music is Nena and Boney M. It’s basically rough and muddy rock’n’roll, and very good for all that.

‘Last Man Standing’ sounds like Travis Tritt on steroids. The opener, ‘Ronin’, is a chaotic and furious instrumental that wouldn’t sound out of place on a Royal Trux album. ‘Make Art Not Friends’ — a riposte to the Nashville crowd — lopes along on a synth and guitar groove, while ‘Remember to Breathe’ reminds me eerily of Quicksilver Messenger Service. Only on ‘Mercury in Retrograde’, with its cute electric piano, do you get a whiff of Simpson’s occasional countrypolitan past. Most of the songs have melodies you can remember, in some cases because you’ve heard them many times before. But it all cheered me up for a while before the Remoaner gloom descended once again. I bet Sturgill would have voted Leave.

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