Bonnie Prince Billy and Matt Sweeney
Drag City / Domino
just had a thought. Is the “Prince” in Bonnie “Prince” Billy meant to be a reference to the Prince (as in Prince Rogers Nelson)? I’ve always assumed that the name was a reference to famous transvestite and 18th century Jacobite Bonnie Prince Charlie. But the frequency with which spirituality (albeit a much bleaker variety) and the sort of sexual thoughts that would appal much of ‘anniversary sex’ suburbia that come up in his lyrics may be a clue to this popular Will Oldham pseudonym.
This train of thought may be worth further investigation at another time, but musically there’s certainly not a lot of groove going on in the hips or fingers of either ex-Zwan player Sweeney or Oldham’s music. This isn’t to say that the music here galumphs along without any finesse or skill; the majority of the songs here are typical Oldham fare—sparse, lonesome skeleton melodies that manage to be sweetly innocent, disconsolate, and confessional all at once. Deceptively beginning with the almost intrepid “Home is the Sea”, Superwolf doesn’t raise any eyebrows in either the musical or lyrical scope despite Sweeney’s input. It sounds a little more like traditional/conventional rock and roll than you’d initially expect and has more swagger in the guitars than the usual Oldham sound. But even this track is balanced out with a spooky falsetto chorus line to Oldham-ise it. It might be partly due to the fact that Matt Sweeney’s vocals match Will’s so well that this joint project seems so similar to the singular vision of Billy’s pseudonymous work.
Any sketchy Prince analogies certainly don’t apply with regards to music here, especially the rhythms as there are only three tracks here actually featuring percussion. The songs manage to portray a rural flavour (see the plucking on “Bed is for Sleeping”) without slipping into “Duelling Banjos” territory. The animal / nature references of the yieldingly pretty “Only Someone Running” employs some farmhand straw stalk in mouth whistling to round off the effect.
Nothing here is as bleak as his work is often portrayed as (well maybe the ending of “Blood Embrace”), and the melodies more than ably balance any of the darker lyrical moods. Anyway Oldham always throws in a healthy dose of gallows humour. Just this side of ribald, “What Are You” references a sharp round of playful spanking, but the ‘jokes’ always slip out with a straight face.
It doesn’t feel right to be beating Will Oldham down for doing something that is so distinctly his own, even though he is doing it again and again to a greater or lesser extent. Even his recent extra curricular collaboration with Sage Francis (“Sea Lion”) wasn’t that different to his usual work, but good songs are good songs at the end of the day. Repetition is a fault easily overlooked when you sound as good as this.
Reviewed by: Scott McKeating
Reviewed on: 2005-01-13