Picks and Pans Review: I Write Your Name

updated 05/21/1984 at 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 05/21/1984 01:00AM

Jim Carroll Band

Jim Carroll has an ear for language and an eye for imagery. When lyrics work, he says, they skirt the intellect and trigger an "undefinable feeling like a kind of wind in your veins or a fist tightening beneath your heart, and you get the shivers." When they deal with specifics, Carroll's lyrics can do that, even though they are buried in the mix and work like a kind of nontonal instrument (that's right, Carroll has absolutely no singing voice). To his credit, Carroll doesn't try to sing. He spews words and images, chanting and speak-singing, and his arch timing and phrasing compare favorably with the masters he emulates—Jagger, Morrison, Lou Reed—even if the raw sound he produces does not. En route, certain lines slap one's face like low branches along a trail: "Life is easy when you're pretty and 16/Just make sure that your underwear is clean," he cautions in Love's A Crime. A verse or two later he cuts the coyness: "I still believe in romance/I just think there's something missing/Because last night just by chance/I caught you and Ivan kissing/The jealousy rose up right from its hole/Just when I had it all under control." Carroll came to light in 1980 as a published latter-day beat poet and urban diarist with a blistering, if primitive, two-guitar rock band behind him and a debut album, Catholic Boy, that featured a high-speed bad dream called People Who Died ("Those were people who died/Died/They were all my friends and they died"). The next album, Dry Dreams, seemed enervated by comparison, though it had its moments. Adding guitarists Lenny Kaye (a Patti Smith alum) and Brian Marnell (who died before the album's release), Carroll has fashioned his best band yet for I Write Your Name. The guitar and bass playing is crisp, cutting and rhythmically assured, with a good range of mood and inflection and almost no plug-in gimmickry. It crackles. If you like the Pretenders and remember Graham Parker's Rumour fondly, Carroll's new squad will put the wind in your veins. (Atlantic)

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