Self-Portrait As A Vulnerable Shrub
ne-person bands are a hazardous thing. Yes, it means that the person in question has unparalleled control of the music that results, which means that if that person is some sort of genius or prodigy we can fear them in full, unfettered effect. If they can convey themselves effectively without outside input. Unfortunately, most solo artists aren’t geniuses. And, even if they were, you’d be hard pressed to find it out while digging through the layers of indulgence.
James Cobb plays the vast majority of the instruments on Self-Portrait As A Vulnerable Shrub and wrote all of the songs here. He recorded, mixed and edited the whole thing. He made the sleeve artwork (and it’s pretty cool; unsurprisingly he’s mostly known in the art world for his visual art). He also very badly needs an editor.
The tracks here, nine over almost seventy minutes, suffer from the same set of problems: they’re either too long, too unfocused or just plain bad. There are bits that sound like out-takes from David Bowie’s instrumental tracks in the seventies, tracks that sound like a hired pianist at a wedding who keeps falling over and lengths of bad free jazz. Crucially, none of this works, because if it had it might have actually been interesting. The only decent track here, “Theme For A Collapsed Blue Civilization”, putters along with distorted horns almost subliminally for seven minutes, and even that isn’t anything to warrant repeated listens.
Instead this record sounds like music to be played at a gallery opening, as bored people with too much free time congratulate themselves on how artistic their taste is. Self-Portrait As A Vulnerable Shrub isn’t artistic, daring, experimental, or fun; it’s just a waste of 69 minutes of your life.
The album is impressive in the sense that Cobb can play all of these instruments and layer it together to sound like the work of some sort of poor avant-garde troupe (even on the tracks where he’s not getting any help), but before Six-Fing Thing is worth listening to he’ll need to have some worthwhile ideas instead of just noodling. The worst examples here are truly pointless; opener “The Basic Nobility Of A Small Boy”, for example, plays the same thing over and over while Cobb sings something to the tune of “da da da da / da da da / da da da da da” with the other instruments doubling the voice. It’s not particularly melodically compelling, and it sure as hell isn’t interesting on any other grounds.
As far as Cobb’s graphic talents, though, he’s on steadier grounds. Apparently he designs sleeves for other bands as well as his own; he should look into doing more of that, and less of this.
Reviewed by: Ian Mathers
Reviewed on: 2004-04-19