A fascinating set from an artist who feels as vital as ever.
Label: Bella Union
Released: 9th February 2018
“This feels like an end of a beautiful, insane chapter.” That’s what Ezra Furman said about last August’s ‘Big Fugitive Life’, collecting the last few scraps by his band The Boy-Friends: Jorgen, Ben, Sam and Tim. Now, they’re gone, and he’s back with The Visions: Tim, Sam, Ben and Jorgen.
The personnel might be the same, and there might be songs with a similar shape to what went before – “an off-kilter version of a retro band”, in Furman’s words, with such righteous touchstones as Springsteen, Lou Reed and Jonathan Richman – but ‘Transangelic Exodus’ is a different beast to the raucous, garagey ‘Day of the Dog’ or 2015’s giddy, rousing ‘Perpetual Motion People’. And it has teeth, gnawing ragged, gory chunks out of the Boy-Friends’ soda-shop doo-wop and rock’n’roll; peeling away the flesh and exposing distorted, toxic plasma pulsing through the heart of the American Dream.
‘Suck the Blood From My Wound’ – a grubbily jubilant ‘Thunder Road’ – begins the album’s loose narrative, exploring Furman’s gender-fluid identity through the idea of people becoming angels, growing wings which are surgically unfurled. Ezra springs his post-operative angel from the hospital and hits the highway, heading “off the grid… off the meds… out on our own”, toying with timeworn romanticised ideas of gleaming bonnets and the longed-for freedom (“to them, we’ll always be freaks”) of the open road. It’s a theme the album returns to, but in the sparse and freaked-out, then explosive, ‘Driving Down to L.A.’, the car might be heading “into the ocean, maybe”, while ‘God Lifts Up The Lonely’ – addressing Furman’s Jewish faith, with a final verse chanted in Hebrew – admits, over cello and warm, woody bass, that “we’ll never make it on the mean streets”.
But for all the lows – the tender ‘Psalm 151’, or the barfly noir of the Tom Waits-ian ‘Come Here And Get Away From Me’ (“I suck all the life out of everything I see”), there are highs – the fidgety, angular ‘Maraschino-Red Dress $8.99 at Goodwill’, or the final, triumphant ‘I Lost My Innocence’ (“to a boy named Vincent”), ticking the off-kilter and retro boxes. And in ‘Love You So Bad’, there’s something like perfect pop. Heartfelt and sparse, with ELO-esque backing “s-so bad”s and a sawing cello pulse, it’s one of Furman’s purest and best songs. Less of an instant hit than ‘…People’, less of a rush than ‘…Dog’, this is a fascinating, mature set from an artist who feels as vital as ever. Hopefully, it’s not so much ‘next chapter’ as the beginning of a whole new saga. Rob Mesure