Queen and David Bowie were contemporaries whose music wasn’t exactly on par, but who, when in 1981 collaborated on “Under Pressure,” had fans smacking their foreheads at the genius and common sense of it. Of course! Whey hadn’t they thought of this earlier? The teaming of Bowie and Queen was so complementary that Eric Earley, the songwriter, guitarist and vocalist of Blitzen Trapper, found another way to combine the music of the two legends.
The opening track on BT’s new album, Destroyer of the Void, is its most adventurous, most expansive, and most engaging. That’s not to say the rest of the album is chopped liver, those songs are stellar, but the lead title track is a monster. Hearing “Destroyer of the Void” right out of the gate is like being struck by lightning and then being rained on. The rain is refreshing and wondrous, but that electrical strike just melted your glasses and fused your keys to your hipbone. Earley channels Bowie throughout, while his band has a harness on the dramatic, operatic vocal backgrounds of Queen. Like songs by the latter, and other classic rock bands of the ’70s, such as Boston, the title track switches up its style numerous times throughout, making a song collage with three or four ‘movements.’ Forget trying to make sense of it, it’s a hell of a ride.
The rest of the album might not be as eclectic, but it doesn’t lose any substance. The artwork of the album, something that tends to be lost in this age of downloads, lends a slight hint to the content, somewhat of a more progressive, if not slightly disturbed, Eagles cover. Cow skulls and Sergio Leone homages are turned on their heads with the additions of dragons and four-eyed steer (six-eyed on the inner sleeve). Yes, it’s psychedelic country, if such a thing exists. “Laughing Lover” retains a little bit of the Queen background vocals, but “Below the Hurricane” brings us back down to earth with the gorgeously spare quality of acoustic guitar and piano that brings to mind Neil Young, Dylan or Gram Parsons.
Earley is at his most potent at either end of an extreme, from the bombast of the title track to the Old West storytelling meets magical realism set to simple guitar chords of “The Man Who Would Speak True.” “Love and Hate” is like a reprise of just one of the sections of “Destroyer of the Void.” It trucks with classic rock majesty like few other bands can seem to muster these days. I’d guess you could play this song on the radio between Skynyrd and Blue Oyster Cult with few listeners blinking an eye. Each song on the album is a treasure unto itself, becoming more of a part of your waking moments with each successive play. The strings and piano beauty of “Heaven and Earth,” the Parsons / Harris callback duet of “The Tree,” the Dylanesque “Evening Star,” and the entrancing mythology of “The Tailor” will all have a deep effect on you by album’s end.
Blitzen Trapper is one of those bands that impresses me with each release, with its twofold ability to honor its influences and look to the future. As such, Destroyer of the Void is of a rare breed. It might not be as rare as a six-eyed steer, but it’s close. The album manages to traverse a broad spectrum of styles while maintaining a cohesion that makes each song of a kind. Time will tell how Blitzen Trapper goes down in history, but Destroyer of the Void will go down as a watershed moment.
Neil Young – Everybody Knows This is Nowhere
Bob Dylan – Nashville Skyline
Eagles – One of These Nights
MP3: “Heaven and Earth”