Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Zachary James & the All Seeing Eyes - Space Case (2013)

Back in 1973, when David Bowie introduced Ziggy Stardust to the world, Ziggy was a character, a persona that Bowie temporarily occupied like a role in a Drury Lane stageplay, and something easily discarded once audience expectations became too high. Since that time the world's seen all manner of similar tactics and pop chameleons, to the point that we barely expect our precious rock gods to be anything other than cracked actors biding their time until they can cash out. Which makes Zachary James and the All Seeing Eyes' new album seem as unlikely as it is thrilling, because exactly 40 years after Zig's rock & roll suicide, they've reanimated that alien critter's spangly corpse and dragged it mule-kicking and screaming into the new millennium.

Which isn't to say Space Case sounds like Bowie, because it doesn't. It sounds like the album the character Ziggy might make, with lyrics of sci-fi romance and more nods to T.Rex than Bowie (and more to the Stones than either). Subsequently, it also embraces the glam dichotomy, the inherent contradiction of an androgynous future utopianism juxtaposed with the music's desire to search and destroy (to wit: just check the distance traveled between "Soul Love" and "Suffragette City" on the original artifact). With Space Case, James makes those two opposing poles obvious and distinct. The entirety of Side A, for example, is a much more direct and guileless proclamation of romantic love than any of the authentic glitter dudes ever waxed. "My Planet is Red (Your Planet is Blue)." a duet with Alexandra Starlight, practically oozes domestic bliss, and "Little Girl From Mars" is, its title notwithstanding, a fairly straightforward love song. Only "I'm Not Alone," with James' Joey Ramone drawl grafted on to a T.Rex choogle, challenges the languid pace of the first four tracks. 

Side B, on the other hand, mostly gives up the romance and gives in to the impulse to rock. It's the opposite side of the coin, and the Rolling Stones are all over this side. It's an interesting stylistic choice, not so much because of the influence - which has always been part of James' sound - but because of the thematic repercussions. Let's face it, the Stones have typically (at their best) been fueled by an unapologetic, almost malevolent, macho heterosexuality (along with a flirtation with misogyny), which collides face-first with the romantic idealism of Space Case. James seems to intrinsically understand the contradiction, allowing his stomper "Outta Space" to organically drift into the unmistakable riff from "Satisfaction" before zooming off into its own boogie orbit. Similarly, "Starpeople," a hook-filled rocker built on a solid Chuck Berry foundation and neo-hippy sentiments, blatantly steals its chorus from "Star Star" as if attempting to offer a spiritual apologia for the  awesome petulance of that great Stones classic. The comparatively low-key slow burn of "That's Just Life" exists between those two tracks like a palate cleanser.

And then, at the end of it all comes "Runnin' Outta Tyme," a propulsive mid-tempo groover with a spectacularly seductive riff. More than any other song here, this track suggests James can have it both ways. It reconciles his desire for utopian positivity with his need to just kick out the jams (muthafugga), and subsumes those warring urges into a single tension-filled entity. It's pure pop drama, befitting the original concept of the Zigster himself. But Zachary James is no mere character. He's the living embodiment. The leper messiah with glitter on his cheek. And maybe he takes it too far but (you know the drill), boy, can he play guitar.

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