Ten Senators and the Rebel Son
ot surprisingly, Dave Matthews isn’t the most lauded aesthetic touchstone for our generation’s crop of white, male singer-songwriters. Though as Chris Bono shows on his almost satisfying, incongruous debut, the scattered approach of Matthews—vague, universal subjects delivered with a quivering sense of playful urgency—does have its upside.
Handsome as all get out, former college baseball player (and one time Seattle Mariner draft pick) Chris Bono has an endearing enough history. After a career-ending shoulder injury snuffed out those ballpark dreams, Bono (in an eerily similar move to The Game’s rehab tactic) found solace in stacks of classic rock albums found around his bedside. His promo materials claim he’s influenced by the usual cohort of Buckley, Led Zeppelin, and Springsteen, though the most positive forbearer for Bono may just be the man who gets stacked at the end of his influences: Tom Waits.
“Killer #17” opens Senators, and with Bono’s endlessly shuddering voice modulation, the unwelcome flashback to Matthews is almost enough to ruin an otherwise enjoyably odd and affecting opening piece. Thankfully, stern guitar tweaks fill the foreground as Bono starts harping out his birth, a more-than-violent God, and getting educated by the “king of thieves.” Like Waits, Bono shows no apprehension in going after the unsettling parts of being a dude.
Though the song is a bit misleading in terms of the album’s eventual path—Bono later unwisely tries a dramatic monologue, “Rapunzel (Callin’ You Out),” centering around “my shining sword that has magic and mysterious power”—the tone of “Killer #17” is surprising enough to carry a listener through most of Bono’s expectedly anxious, unsettled debut.
The instruments are all homogenized rock: guitars, and drums in 4/4, instantly forgettable harmony. When Bono doesn’t take aim at masculinity and maturity—themes he’s invested in—the songwriting seems like something turned in for a class.
But the Waits affection sometimes takes Bono to shocking, fun places. Alongside the album opener, Bono gets out some rural aggression and masculine angst on “Cincinnati.” After crooning some groaners like, “Take my broken-hearted past and lay it in your light,” Bono suddenly starts screeching about “bitter storms” as the electric guitar picks up like a blitzkrieg and overwhelms the song’s conclusion.
The tightrope between slushy, fratty moments of sad-sack love and mindless, evocative destruction is one that Bono tries to walk (to his credit), but he falls off of it way too often to be successful. If he’s channeling his immediate influences, that’s fine; but more often than not, one wishes that someone had slipped in some Leonard Cohen and some more Waits.
Reviewed by: Evan McGarvey
Reviewed on: 2006-01-06