Critique: Chagall Guevara

Harvest Rock Syndicate
January/February(?) 1991, Volume 6, Issue 1
© 1991 Harvest Rock Publications
Page 8

Chagall Guevara
Chagall Guevara MCA
[4 Stars]

Years ago, a wise man named Steve Taylor told me how he and his pal, guitarist/producer Dave Perkins, were lamenting the death of new wave. The problem, he said, was that they didn't know what the next step was. Well, wherever Mr. Taylor has disappeared to, I'm sure he would agree that Chagall Guevara is certainly a step in the right direction.

"Chagall Guevara?" I know. Sounds like a cologne. Or a Julio Iglesias cover band. Pronounce it "Chicago Vera" and it could be a professional lady wrestler. Since my review copy came sans any sort of literature--credits, lyrics, the usual--my best guess is that Chagall Guevara is a band of angry young men who grew up listening to the Stones and The Clash, and maybe grew disillusioned through previous experiences with the music industry.

"This house is crumbling / This property's condemned," the vocalist intones in "Murder in the Big House," implying the band's interest in architecture gone bad. As pieces fit together, the listener realizes the band is angry about something much larger--a fallen world. Jangling guitars, simple pop riffs, and generally cynical disposition liken Chagall Guevara to R.E.M. But while R.E.M. complains about the symptoms (politics, failed relationships), Chagall Guevara goes right to the source. The album presents a world of pain, loneliness and imperfection, where love loses its importance, money doesn't buy what it used to, and people make the mistake of answering wrong numbers.

While that sounds pretty bleak, Chagall Guevara doesn't seem too dragged down. They aren't suicidal or nihilistic; just practical. A sense of humor sneaks through in places, such as the performance art of "The Wrong George," and there even appears to be a glimmer of hope at the end of the album in "If It All Comes True," as they dare to believe in the impossible.

The whole picture painted by Chagall Guevara isn't readily available, of course--some songs only hint at what they might be about--but there are bits and pieces here and there that engage the listener. While a lyric sheet would help, I suspect the intention is to grab the listener by the collar and make them figure the album out for themselves, kind of like robbers breaking into your house and then expecting you to help them with the couch.

If that's the plan, then the music certainly fits the bill: a couple of tunes, such as the superb "I Need Somebody," do sound like R.E.M. (on a good day, I might add), but Chagall Guevara seems to have a larger range. It's not obvious at first; you've got to play it loud. "Murder in the Big House," through the sheer force of its guitars, makes an interesting dance-rocker; the slow, bluesy "Monkey Grinder" grinds away indeed, packing an unexpected wallop in its tempo; "Love Canal" has an oddly nostalgic pogo-pop feel to it, but with a much fuller sound.

Of note is the production quality, as well. Sometimes, when your basic rock combo belts out a few, the temptation is to let the guitars die with lifeless acoustics. The cuts here have a sheen to them, a nice spacious quality for the guitars to bounce you around with. It appears that, after the robbers make you help them load the truck, at least they're kind enough to straighten your tie.

Of course, Chagall Guevara is Steve Taylor (who gave us classic ccm LP's like I Want to be a Clone, On the Fritz, and I Predict 1990), David Perkins (Taylor's producer the last time out, a solo artist who gave us The Innocence on What? Records, and who played and produced for Rick Cua, Randy Stonehill, and Servant), Lynn Nichols (one time member of the Phil Keaggy Band, and an A&R person for Myrrh, who also produced the latest from Keaggy, Sunday's Child and Find Me in These Fields), Mike Mead (former drummer with Rick Cua's band, and for Keaggy sessions); those with great expectation will certainly be delighted with the finished product. But for the rest of us all we know is that Chagall Guevara is a quality debut from a band that isn't afraid to speak its mind--and have fun while it's doing it. We'll be looking for more of these guys for years to come.

Chris Well