Six weeks into 2017 and Chuck Prophet throws his hat into the ring with this contender for top ten album of the year. Partly a masterful depiction of the darker side of California, at times trashy garage rock, elsewhere stained meditations on the human condition and laced throughout with a sardonic humour and sly beat argot Bobby Fuller Died For Your Sins is a thrilling listen. Prophet has described the album as California Noir and as such it can be considered a slight return to his magnificent San Francisco inspired album Temple Beautiful, an album whose title song was “the coolest song in the world” according to Steve Van Zandt on his radio show. Although it’s not as singular in its focus as Temple Beautiful was, Bobby Fuller Died For Your Sins is a similar ride as Prophet casually adopts classic rock riffs, attitudes and legends and transforms them into his own unique style. He’s a master of the riff, the hook and the melody, his vocals cool and hip as he tumbles through his rock’n’roll universe.
The title song is a perfect introduction to the album. Thrashing drums lead into a power pop guitar rush as Prophet turns in an anthem that celebrates the power of song as he sings of hearing “the record crackle as the needle skips and jumps.” That he’s singing of Fuller, the author of I Fought The Law and whose death at the age of 23 is still subject to conjecture while also describing a kid gunned down by cops, Prophet signposts his version of Mondo Hollywood where glamour, danger and death ride side by side. The fuzzy psychedelic slice of freakbeat that is Your Skin has a protagonist whose itch to get inside a girl’s skin recalls Buffalo Bill from Silence Of The Lambs, creepy, but with a magnificent Yardbirds’ like guitar freakout at its psychotic centre. Killing Machine chills as Prophet sets up a scenario over a throbbing bass line and a claustrophobic clutter of guitars and synth. Played like a slo-mo movie a guy buys a gun, “it was as easy as pie like he was paying for gum,” as a waitress has a cigarette break outside. Her words, “oh no” leaving one to imagine this real American carnage.
The album has several visceral slices of rock’n’roll. The Alan Vega influenced speed freak rockabilly of In The Mausoleum, the Stones’ like raunchy Post-War Cinematic Dead Man Blues and the mean streets prowl of Coming Out In Code. Then there’s the full blown rush of Alex Nieto (Prophet’s protest song about this 28 yr old shot dead by police in a San Francisco park originally recorded and released just days after the event last year) which has the ferocity of a full blown Crazy Horse wig out with Prophet’s vocals showing his anger. Aside from his undoubted prowess as a prowling rocker Prophet can turn in a tender ballad as in open Up Your Heart in which one hears echoes of Curtis Mayfield while We Got Up And Played is a sepia tinged look back at days spent playing in rock’n’roll toilets, a song that is tempting to see as an open letter to his ex band mate Dan Stuart.
There’s more as the album overflows with delights. Humour in the bouncy rock of If I Was Connie Britton as Prophet imagines his life as this star of TV’s Nashville and the magnificently titled Jesus Was A Social Drinker which must be this album’s contender for coolest song in the world as Prophet digs deep into his laconic irony, indeed Jesus was “an all round decent dude“. To cap it all there’s the chiming glory of Bad Year For Rock And Roll, a eulogy for Bowie delivered with all the snotty glam thrust of prime Mott The Hoople.
There’s not much else to say here other than that Bobby Fuller Died For Your Sins is prime time Chuck Prophet. A blast from start to end and thoroughly recommended. The album was released this weekend and Chuck’s currently touring the UK with a Glasgow show on the 15th at the O2abc courtesy of The Fallen Angels Club. All tour dates here