Monday, March 02, 2009

Willie Nile -- House of a Thousand Guitars

Willie Nile doesn't make indie rock, psychedelic rock, or alt-anything. He makes blue collar rock 'n roll, the kind that used to emerge out of basement windows and garages a long time ago. It's all filtered through a late '70s/early '80s pop sheen, and it forever dooms him to the second tier of rock artists. He's more Eddie Money than Bruce Springsteen (come to think of it, Bruce Springsteen is more Eddie Money than Bruce Springsteen these days). But when he's on, and he's on about half the time on his new album House of a Thousand Guitars, he reminds me of the pure, primal joy of bashing out chords and reveling in the unmitigated pleasure of making a racket.

Willie's been around for almost thirty years now, and his early albums document a witty wordsmith in love with three chords and a backbeat. There's absolutely nothing wrong with that, and if his subsequent history hasn't demonstrated much artistic growth, there's something to be said for dogged persistence. His 2006 album Streets of New York was a long-awaited comeback, and put Willie back on the cultural radar. Unfortunately, the new album is a step backward, awash in too many nondescript power ballads. Some of the song titles tell the story: "Love is a Train," "Her Love Falls Like Rain," "Little Light," "Touch Me." They're right out of the Bon Jovi/Creed playbook, and the rest of the lyrics don't improve on the initial impressions. But there are a handful of great, no-frills rockers here as well, particularly the scathing "Doomsday Dance," which boogies all over the apocalypse, and "Magdalena," which features the best shouted "Hey! Hey!" chorus I've heard since the early days of The Ramones and The Romantics.

So think of it as a house of 500 guitars. It's an album that begs for the use of the Next button on your iPod or CD player. And it's an album that offers up its share of small but satisfying rewards.

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