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James Williamson and Deniz Tek - Two to One

  by Adrian Janes

published: 14 / 2 / 2021

James Williamson and Deniz Tek - Two to One
Label: Cleopatra Records
Format: CD


Stooges guitarist James Williamson and Radio Birdman frontman Deniz Tek team up to make solid rock

Williamson and Tek originally achieved cult acclaim in the 1970s as, respectively, lead guitarist with the Stooges and vocalist/guitarist with Radio Birdman (their name itself derived from a misheard line on a Stooges’ song). What can this summit meeting of two elder statesmen of rock offer today? Well, it isn’t a radical upsurge of energy like that which fired both their first records and the imagination of many bands that followed them. But it is a set of well-crafted rock songs, where Tek’s grizzled growl is the voice of experience (e.g.) “We have the scars to prove it/And they’ll never fade away” (‘Take a Look Around’), and Williamson offers measured rather than manic solos, often by way of a surgical coda. While there is a certain generic feel to the style of rock they have adopted, so that much of this sounds like it could have come from any decade since the Seventies, it’s all delivered with conviction. Several tracks also give nods to the duo’s musical history. The guitar of ‘Jet Pack Nightmare’ and its ‘School’s Out’ rhythm evokes Alice Cooper; ‘Climate Change’ blends a crunching riff and a picture of increasingly unbearable heat with an ironic invocation of a “Long hot summer/Endless summer.” like nothing the Beach Boys ever envisaged; the fast rocker ‘Birthday Present’ recalls Blue Oyster Cult’s ‘Cagey Cretins’, before concluding with the hook of ‘Then He Kissed Me’. This relaxed approach to drawing upon the past is apparent above all on the Stoogesque ‘Stable’, displayed in Tek’s vocal attitude and Williamson’s raw riff. There are even a few seconds of ‘I Wanna Be Your Dog’ piano plinking. Assuming at least some autobiographical content, certain songs (and the spirit of this album) are those of survivors. The brisk pace of ‘Progress’ and Tek’s resolution (“Now I’m moving on”) is set against regrets and an image of attempted suicide, while ‘Liar’ and ‘Good as Gone’ seem to be about escaping bad relationships and attaining some sort of freedom. But while these latter two might still retain something of the original punk attitude, ‘Small Change’ and its conclusion that this is “all that you need sometimes”, is a more chastened message, reflected in glittering Tom Petty-ish strumming and Tek’s harmonica. Perhaps the clearest evidence of age and its not always welcome lessons is the ballad ‘Melissa Blue’. Held together by a highly melodic guitar phrase, it’s an ambiguous encounter that could be with a prostitute or simply a younger woman who knows what/who she wants; either way, Tek informs her “You’re not what this old man needs.” Yet these “old men” have come up with an album that still has plenty of energy (well aided by drummer Michael Urbano and bassist Michael Scanland) and feeling. But where once the music they made was incandescent, here they smoulder.

Track Listing:-
1 Jet Pack Nightmare
2 Progress
3 Take a Look Around
4 Good as Gone
5 Stable
6 Climate Change
7 Birthday Present
8 Small Change
9 Liar
10 No Dreams
11 Melissa Blue

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