As 2016 (thankfully) comes towards it’s end like a mountain troll, dragging it’s club behind it, every day I look at my shortlist of “Best Of’s” and think, “I should really write a review for that”. Unfortunately I usually end up in some brain-numbing activity like making dinner, sleeping or catching up on Westworld. After roughly my 60th listen of “Sex”, I decided it was time. Last years “Songs of Flesh & Blood” was hands-down my favorite record of 2015. While “Sex” doesn’t unseat it’s predecessor as one of my most beloved, it definitely has taken a seat at the table.
While not weaving a singular storyline, “Sex” is still a concept album of sorts in that each track lyrically expresses (with the exception of one instrumental) in individual vignettes along that theme. Whether it’s straight-up lust, love or the loss thereof, the subject is that primal drive that made Rock & Roll, well…Rock & Roll. While I’m usually reluctant to do these “track by track” reviews, I feel this one deserves it. Stylistically it’s about as ADD as they come, with Cowgill paying homage to everything from 60’s Garage Punk to Industrial, and that’s no criticism. Like the act of making the beast with two backs itself, something as subtle as a shift of a limb or as bold as a whip, variety keeps it interesting.
The album opener “Holy Christos” is probably as close to previous Dude as there is, a Gothy, reverbed soaked rocker with Cowgill’s smooth as fuck baritone and breathy intros/outros from Foie Gras (who’s featured throughout the album) for extra seduction. Next up is “Who Taught You How To Love”, a super-sensual love/hate song that for me, and hear me out, sounds like it could be an outtake from Floodland era Sisters of Mercy. Listen and tell me you can’t imagine Andrew Eldritch crooning this fucking thing? On the heels of that seduction is “I Wanna Die At 69”. A simmering, smoky Rockabilly number, that if I close my eyes and imagine Thomas in a set of women’s high heels (which happens more than I care to admit), I hear him channeling the ghost of Lux Interior. Extra sexy points for not-so-subtle references to Uncle Charlie and the ladies as well.
“Our Love Will Carry On” is one of my favorite tracks on the record. From early on as his incarnation as King Dude, Cowgill has been associated with and embraced by the NeoFolk scene. This track is everything I love about that genre personified: simple, martial rhythms that remind me of a pounding bodhran, ethereal ambience, straightforward acoustic guitar, and Lee Hazlewood by way of :Of The Wand And The Moon: vocals….stunning. Doing a complete 360 from here is the Punked out Surf Rock of “Sex Dungeon”. It’s pretty immediate from the first few riffs this one’s about fun, and fun it is. In fact, someone needs to run this number as a possible cover by Iggy Pop, stat. I think it would be the perfect song for him to contort his skinny little ass to. Next, Disintegration era The Cure is missing one of it’s instrumentals and I found it in “Conflict & Climax”. Don’t even try to deny it, Dude. You painted your nails black and cried before you recorded this. It’s ok, I’m a Sadboy too and this hits all the right spots.
Now imagine Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds as the house band for a seedy, run-down lounge in a David lynch film and you’ll have a pretty godamn good idea of the smoldering “The Leather One”. And after reading back, I’m so happy with the complete accuracy of that description I’m just going to leave it alone. “Swedish Boys” is, as mentioned previously, total Garage Punk worship with homoerotic overtones that would be at home on any Turbonegro record. It’s a rocker and it makes me smile. Reminding me all the world like the early 80’s Wax Trax! Records Chicago Industrial is “Prisoners”, mechanically rhythmic, but melody still matters and guitars aren’t taboo. Next up is another amusing number with canned audience sounds and Cowgill singing with a slight British lilt to his voice is “The Girls”. If you thought I was going to skip a reference, guess again. How about late seventies Brit Punkers Squeeze (or UK Squeeze as they were known to us Yanks). It’s a total melodic 70’s punk number sung as tired stippers dance listlessly for greasy old men in the film in my head. Finishing out the record is “Shine Your Light”, a brilliant torch song featuring Cowgill’s dejected vocals with piano accompaniment and ghostly female backing vocals. It’s a closer that’s perfect in it’s sadness and finality.
So there you have my track list play-by-play, for good or for bad, for better or for worse. Sex is a superb record, and one that like wine, needs to be held on the tongue and savored….like a new lover’s body, it requires repeat listenings to discover all those delicate regions you might have missed on a first encounter. Released digitally, on compact disc or in a myriad of colored vinyl options, including the limited “lavish” hardcover gatefold from Ván, this album is one that should not be missed. Like it’s predecessor, I grabbed a couple because I know I’m bound to wear one out, without a doubt one of my tops for 2016.
Below is a very “unofficial” video, but still amazing….