Solace – Xavier Rudd
Two seconds into "Green Spandex," the culminating track on Xavier Rudd's forthcoming Solace, the 26 year old guitarist takes a pause to clear his throat — a haughty, guttural interjection which confirms a suspicion you will most likely have that he’s been singing at a much more fragile timbre than his natural voice dictates. Hence, Rudd ties a fitting bow on an album that would be far more worthwhile if he would discard the more cutesy elements of his sound and embrace his own instrumental talents. Now before all you tittering pseudo-bohemian sorority girls get all riled up (and you know how you can get all riled up), before you start shaking your fists, rattling your hemp bracelets and your silver plated, initial gouged hearts, I’m saying all this cause I like him.
In addition to utilizing the same producer (Gavin Lurssen), Rudd will inevitably draw a bevy of comparisons to Ben Harper, and rightfully so; the two sing in the same delicate airy register, share a predilection for fluid melodies and Weissenborn slide guitars, and seem to be guided by similar tenets of social and moral activism. Yet while Harper's pervasive looseness manages to set the anger of his songwriting at ease, Rudd's mellow pieces lack that sense of subconscious urgency altogether. Working in concert with lackluster lyrics, this prominent void manages to unravel many of his more important and worthy concerns.
Songs meant to be sincere wind up feeling fluffy and unsubstantiated, threatening to float away into some abstract bohemian Neverland. It's a relatively common tale, but made more frustrating here by his obvious musical competency. There is for example the impressive "GBA," where Rudd's slide work evaporates into a stomping, sonically layered expedition that takes full advantage of his eclectic, multi-instrumental approach. The guitarist even trades in his hushed, whispering intonations for more assertive, impassioned vocals, and as if in response to this harnessing of talent, reveals intensity and purpose that the more flighty, advertised tracks ("Shelter," "Let Me Be") sorely lack. "In Transit" is equally powerful in its subtlety. Yet these moments are all too rare, appearing more as neurotic backlashings of talent against Rudd's encompassing passive-aggression.
Meanwhile, the press kit advertises the Aussie as "Kurt Cobain on Prozac," as if that were a good thing. Even if it were (somehow) the comparison is nothing short of idiotic. Every facet of Cobain’s songwriting and performance was dripping with some personal angst. Clearly, the man had demons, and to be honest, Rudd could use some of his own, and deciding which girl to take home after the show doesn’t count. In other words, Xavier Rudd might exude a sense of comfort within his own skin, if not within his own voice, a sense of "solace," if you will, and I hope you will. But as Dr. Gonzo taught us, sometimes solace is boring. It’s not until he adapts an identity as ambitious and risk taking as his Keller Williams one-man band credo that he will be a truly compelling musician, and I for one look forward with great anticipation to that development. As it stands, this isn’t necessarily a terribly disappointing album, but it’s flat, and that might be worse. Then again, everything seems pointless and vain and banal today. We’ll miss you Doctor.