Mr. Sad Clown
At album number nine, 25 years into its career, BoDeans have earned their status as a legend of Wisconsin roots rock. On the new Mr. Sad Clown, though, normally admirable music business traits like longevity and prolificacy don't always translate into winning results. Not that anyone would begrudge a little looking back at the quarter-century mark, but the obvious passion it took for lead singer Kurt Neumann to unleash that dorky howl seconds into the BoDeans' signature hit "Closer To Free" is firmly mired in a fog of creeping melancholy and sappy sentimentality.
According to the liner notes, the majority of the songs on Sad Clown were written in hotels, which might account for the achy tone of lyrics about letting go and the passing of time. Lines like, "If you ever went away / I'd lose the only reason that I'm not insane," and, "Can't seem to get it started, can't seem to light the fuse / Can't find the energy that I will need to use," seem almost intentionally hokey. Judging by Neumann's strained moans on "If…" and bandmate Sam Llanas' breathy coos on "All The Blues," they at least mean to inject these hammy lyrics with sincerity and vulnerability, for better or worse.
That said, their voices can still lift up beautifully together in harmony, as on album highlight "Shine," which illustrates the long history and admirable chemistry between the two songwriters. When they cut it loose on "Feel 'Lil Love," BoDeans prove that crunchy guitar riffs and upbeat energy can still do a lot to propel them into more youthful territory.