On the Record: Butch Walker & The Black Widows – The Spade

In some alternate universe, Butch Walker is a critical darling and a household name. In our universe, however, he’s merely the former. Cutting his teeth with the hair metal outfit Southgang in the late 80s, moving to power-pop trio Marvelous 3 in the 90s, and graduating to solo artist in the 00s, Butch Walker has remained one of the best, most consistent American songwriters of his generation, and his sixth album, The Spade, continues down that same path turning out a contender for the best straight-up rock ‘n’ roll album of 2011.

Walker’s style may not have changed very much since his Marvelous 3 days, though the modern-sounding studio polish of Left of Self-Centered has been toned down, opting for a more “classic” sound that began with 2006’s (phenomenal) The Rise and Fall of Butch Walker and the Let’s-Go-Out-Tonites. Where that album saw Walker and company high on T. Rex and glammed to the nines, The Spade is littered with a heavy 70s Stones vibe; tracks like “The Closest Thing to You I’m Gonna Find” and the album-closing “Suckerpunched” would sound at home on any post-Exile Stones record, while the sexy swagger of “Sweethearts” channels “Beast of Burden.”

Walker has never achieved the success of his peers and the artists he’s produced (he’s never cracked the Billboard 100), but that has never stopped him from making the best and catchiest rock music possible. First single “Summer of ’89” gleefully employs a “Whoa oh ho oh oh whoa!!” Def Leppard-like refrain while looking back at his youth. Elsewhere, Walker explores new musical territory with the folky “Dublin Crow” and manages to amalgamate John Lennon and Ben Folds on the upbeat and catchy “Synthesizer.”



Lyrically Walker explores the same territory of albums past – mixing poignant observations about lost souls and unrequited love with smirking wit – ett he does it in such a way that it never feels forced or stale, thanks to his enthusiastic vocal performances and the sheer tightness of backing band The Black Widows. It’ll be hard pressed to find a better rock ‘n’ roll record in 2011.

About James Hrivnak
The H is silent.

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