The American pop credo of “live fast, die young, leave a beautiful corpse” is tired and tried beyond cliché, but the “live fast for a little while, circle the wagons, cut yer losses and come back with a long-distance plan that eschews easy categorization” approach has yet to show proven results.
Peter Case nearly busted through on that first plan with the Nerves in the mid-’70s and got much closer with the Plimsouls in the early ’80s. He became one of the first songwriters of his generation to turn his back on the search for pop stardom and band identification and venture boldly into the trans-genre, “Americana” singer-songwriter milieu.
Flying Saucer Blues is Case’s seventh solo effort since 1986 and, despite various critical hosannas evoking Dylan and Guthrie, he’s a long dusty road from being either one or the other. He’s way shy of providing the startling, to-the-bone revelations of Woody Guthrie, and quite short of Dylanesque wordplay. The latest promo proclaims that the Beatles’ Revolver was a big influence on this disc. Perhaps, but I don’t hear that, either.
Maybe the singer-songwriter’s willful escape from pop bought its own particular travails. More likely, Peter Case is just very capable instead of great. This is (again) a collection of well-crafted songs; all of the pieces (again) seem to be here. The playing and songs are top-drawer; the voice is simply…nice.
A Peter Case melody hasn’t sprung into my head in the shower since “A Million Miles Away”. But is it such a bad thing to just make a really solid record?