Thursday, November 19, 2009

John Mendelsohn/Mendelssohn/Mendels(s)ohn: "Sorry We're Open"

John Mendels(s)ohn, is the only person I know with parentheses in his name. He's a special kind of chap, who inspires a certain tone of critical review. Rolling Stone once said he sounded like Todd Rundgren with severely inadequate equipment.

That was "back in the day," when Mendels(s)ohn's band, Christopher Milk, recorded for Warner Brothers; back in the day when he wrote for Rolling Stone and Cream and interviewed the likes of (early) David Bowie (in a dress) and, later, Richard Butler of the Psychedelic Furs, "[who he] was nearly able to see... through the smoke of the 360 cigarettes [Butler] smoked during [their] 20 minutes together;" and back (a bit later) in the day, once more behind the microphone to record with Rhino Records in 1995. Such is the swirling life of a proto-rock star turned music critic, turned proto-rock star, again.

Today – a few decades, continents and gentle debaucheries after his 1971 Halfnelson debut – John Mendels(s)ohn's latest, self-produced album defies comparison, perhaps even description. On "Sorry We're Open," you might call Mendels(s)ohn a whimsical ranter; an ironic straight-shooter; or a deeply twisted love-sponge. But it's hard to label him any one thing and make it stick. Besides, why would you – he's the man with parentheses in his name, for god's sake! The marvel of this boyishly gifted artist – on the new album, in particular – is the way his voice, his ideas, his very essence swirl and twist and turn, like a dancing hippie-punk-hybrid genie, ever fresh out of its lamp and looking to change the world.

"Sorry We're Open" sees Mendels(s)ohn continue to preserve his inalienable right, as a parenthetical icon of his generation, to slip whatever vaporous, boxing with velvet gloves weirdness/sincerity he wants into those ever-beckoning punctuation marks of his. For one thing, his lilting voice – so angelic, it's menacing – adds a hint of threat to the most benign lyric. Not that his lyrics are always benign, with songs like "Xenophobia," "Soil Me" and "Swastikas in Drag."

This could all add up to a hipster lounge act waiting to burst onto the Los Angeles, New York, Las Vegas, Reno, Albuquerque or Camel Rock scene. Whether it does or not, John Mendels(s)ohn keeps us eternally on the edge of our Naugahyde seats.

No comments:

Post a Comment