When REM released a record, it would be fawned over as if God had just dictated another gospel. Their guitarist’s first proper solo record invites a more laidback response; it’s a low key release (2000 copies on vinyl on a “traditional” record label), which has no world-changing purpose, just a music lover’s labour of love. And for music lovers, it’s something to appreciate too.
Buck has gathered old collaborators (Bill Rieflin and Scott McCaughey, plus Mike Mills) and other friends, including the legendary Lenny Kaye, Corin Tucker from Sleater-Kinney and the Decemberists’ Jenny Conley. There’s no particular Buck sound on this record, other than his his gravelly baritone (which is so not a “frontman” voice), and the songs reflect all the styles that Buck patently loves.
It starts with an original, the fuzzy garage rocker ‘10 Million BC’, which could have been lifted from the Songs the Cramps Taught Us comps, and it ends with a cover of Tommy James and the Shondells’ ‘I’m Alive’, complete with snakey farfisa organ and Lenny Kaye’s knife-like solo. In between it meanders from the acid-psych ‘Travel Without Arriving’ to the Pixies-ish ‘Vaso Loco’. ‘Some Kind of Velvet Sunday Morning’ is a jangly classic with a killer chorus that crosses Lee Hazlewood with the Go-Betweens, and on which Buck does his best Lee while Annalisa Tornfelt and Chloe Johnson are a fine collective Nancy. ‘L.V.M.F.’ reassembles a Sonny Boy Williamson tune in a hip-hop style with liberal use of the term “motherfucker” and ‘Nowhere No Way’ is a broken-down gem with a countryish vibe, especially Tornfelt’s violin, about an afternoon decision – “whiskey or gin?” – that could have been beamed up from Exile On Main Street.
The point of this is that there’s no real point, just a good time cruise through some of the great music that inspired him, with some stellar musician pals and the sort of spirit that clearly propelled REM when they were starting out in Athens. Expect little originality but plenty of pleasure.