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Chris Allen - Acetate

  by Anthony Dhanendran

published: 7 / 9 / 2011

Chris Allen - Acetate
Label: Carp and Bones Music
Format: CD


Impressively versatile third album of 1980's and 1990's influenced rock from Cleveland-based singer-songwriter, Chris Allen

In every city, in every music scene, there’s a musician or a band who always seems to be on the cusp of greatness. Sometimes they make it, and some of them make a big noise for a while and then fade away, but what unites all of them is that they seem too big to fit in to what is always, no matter how big the city, a small scene. When it comes to Cleveland, Ohio, the man in question would be Chris Allen, it seems. According to one website he has “made a lot of music history” in Cleveland, and that certainly shows through on 'Acetate', his new album. This is an old-fashioned album, there are no two ways about it. It reeks of the 1980s and 1990s. Occasionally that jars, but most of the time it’s a welcome, comforting kind of nostalgia. It’s produced by Don Dixon, one of the pioneers of credible 1980s American jangle-pop and who produced REM’s first two albums. 'Acetate' has a great deal of pedigree, then – Allen has been plying his trade on the Cleveland scene for a long time, and Dixon certainly knows a thing or two about making American rock music. The album itself is a bit of a trip through, if not quite the Great American Songbook, then at least an appendix covering Great American Songwriters Of The Last Thirty Years. 'Love Not Born', the opening track, is brash and confrontational, evoking the Pixies and Mark Lanegan in parts but more accessible than both. The next two songs, ‘The Man Who Shook the World’ and ‘I Don’t Live Here Anymore’ take us on a detour through Tom Petty and even John Mellencamp. The quieter, meditative and melancholy 'Immediate Blue' has some wonderful turns of phrase (“I don’t wait for the Spring/What it will bring/I’ve got less and less to lose”). The only bum note of the first half of the album is ‘We Are Just Kids’, a fun rocking number on which the 1980s vibe is just too strong for it to sound timely. Most of the time, Allen’s voice sounds gnarled, aged and full of wisdom and experience. On ‘We Are Just Kids’, it’s not clear whether he’s satirising or sympathising but it just doesn’t ring true. ‘Burn Down The Road’, on the other hand, is another quieter song that begins with the sound of a workshop and Allen’s voice is back to singing from years of long, hard slog. This is a working man’s album: many of the songs evoke men who have spent their lives toiling, who have come to an age at which they realise that their lives are, maybe, slipping away from them. On ‘Burn Down The Road’ he puts it well: “Though there’s places that we think we’ve gotta go/Can’t we just burn down the road?” ‘The Truth About Being In Love’ is another song that doesn’t quite hang together. It’s got some good instrumentation, but the words and the music somehow don’t fit. ‘People Need Targets’ is the least conventional song on the album, a growly, throaty shouted song about how some people don’t fit in with the crowd, and it’s rather charming. 'Acetate' closes with three rather downbeat tracks: ‘With The Morning Comes The Sun’ evokes, of all things, the best bits of Deacon Blue – to this listener, at least. The plaintive ‘Boy Meets Girl’ describes itself in the lyrics as “just another broken love song”, which it is. The pretty, reverb-heavy final chapter, ‘Together We Are’, is just Allen and his guitar. It’s a retelling of the dreaming of someone who might be a general or an explorer but told through the lips of a musician (“Gone was my fear/That we’d crossed the new frontier/That every song had been sung/With every drop of blood”). Chris Allen is a very talented songwriter, and 'Acetate' really gives his words and his voice a chance to shine. Although it’s hit-and-miss (the two most poppy tracks are the weakest) it’s certainly worth seeking out, as the sound of someone who manages to distil a lot of great songwriters and yet come out sounding not quite like anyone else.

Track Listing:-
1 Love Not Born
2 The Man Who Shook the World
3 Don't Live Here Anymore
4 Immediate Blue
5 We Are Just Kids
6 Burn Down the Road
7 The Truth About Being in Love
8 People Need Targets
9 With the Morning Comes the Sun (feat. Marti Jones)
10 Boy Meets Girl
11 Together We Are

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