What would Brian Burton, aka Danger Mouse, - who has produced albums for bands as big as the Red Hot Chili Peppers, U2, and Black Keys - get out of producing punk
band Parquet Courts’ new record Wide Awake! (Rough Trade, 18 May)?
The answer seems to be a strong candidate for album of the year.
Some fans might have feared that Burton might take the edge off Parquet Courts’ angry sound and turn them into something much more superficial. But, to his huge credit, he has managed to add variety, quality and depth to their sound without losing sight in anyway of their venomous punk roots.
As if to make a statement of intent to any doubters, Wide Awake! kicks off with an anthem full of power chords, Total Football. Here singer Andrew Savage, his brother Max Savage on drums, guitarist Austin Brown and bassist Sean Yeaton launch headlong into a song that merrily mixes football chants with a call for solidarity among disparate groups in struggle.
This leads into Violence, which one reviewer described as ‘functioning like a cattle prod’ with its wah guitar and ‘savage’ lyrics: “Savage is my name because Savage is how I feel… My name belongs to us all… My name is a threat”, Savage intones, before turning reflective: "Allow me to ponder the role I play, in this pornographic spectacle of black death!"
Almost Had to Start a Fight might be seen in a similar vein, as Savage wonders how to react when he is provoked. But he doesn’t actually start the fight, he just feels overwhelming frustration about what is happening to him in what he describes as “this chaos dimension.”
Tucked inbetween these spitting punk songs however are a couple of quiet gems - Before the Water Gets Too High and Mardi Gras Beads - both written by Austin Brown. The former track, backed by a beautiful circular bassline on Yeaton’s Fender Precision and boasting superb lyrics, questions the point of going on marches or pursuing ‘wealth’ as the earth teeters on the brink of collapse due to climate change. The latter is more like a dreamy pop song, and it is perhaps on songs like these that Brian Burton has offered the band the most.
Freebird II is reportedly a song written about the Savages’ mother, who has a history of drug abuse and homelessness. But instead of being maudlin it is upbeat and catchy, and the message is one of liberation: “I feel free, like you promised I’d be,” he sings.
Back to Earth is a lovely psychedelic number, featuring Andrew Savage on his red 1963 Fender Jaguar, with Brown beseeching that you should “Get love where you find it, It’s the only fist we have to fight with”.
Next up is the title track Wide Awake, which again bears Burton’s ‘on the edge of collapse’ Talking Heads’ punk-funk imprint, with the whistle and cowbells adding to the carnival atmosphere.
A radical change of mood comes with another Brown-penned song, Death Will Bring Change. But the mood this song evokes is very strange because the lyrics, which deal with our existential preoccupation with death, are partly sung by a group of children in a choir. Perhaps it seeks the type of feelings that Peter Sellers sought to evoke when he asked that the song In the Mood be played at his funeral.
The album closes with Tenderness, which after all that has come before, feels something like an exhausted cry for a bit of peace and calm: “But like power turns to mold, like a junkie going cold, I need the fix of a little tenderness,” Savage sings.
Parquet Courts’ sixth studio record is an eclectic mix that feels like it has something for everyone; but all unified by the band’s magical touch. Chaos may be everywhere, but this latest album represents a triumph.