CD reviews

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 27 April, 2003, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 27 April, 2003, 12:00am



Drag City Records

Thanks to the purchase required to write this review, no copies of Supper are left on sale in Hong Kong. Purpose largely defeated, let's push on in the belief that Bill Callahan gave himself little hope of selling an album anywhere. We're talking about a one-man band who changed his name from Smog to (Smog) - the charts are not a priority.

Callahan makes music we no longer have time to hear. He's from the school of slowly burning rock that takes a while, if ever, to make sense. He's trying to give us art, show us his vista on the world. Working in an industry that wants the easily absorbed, his progress has been limited to a couple of cultish hits. A (Smog) track on the High Fidelity soundtrack gave a CD otherwise full of classics the obscure-pop credibility Nick Hornby's character craved.

Callahan's progress has been further hindered by his devotion to the kind of carolling made famous by Lou Reed and Leonard Cohen. Singing, he seems to think, gets in the way of the words. Be glad he's a serious lyricist - good enough to carry his droning voice and the frugal arrangements around the country and blues of his guitar. Most pop balladeers keep their point vague to avoid scrutiny. Callahan is opaque, but he has messages. He might even be that forbidden word, poetic. Vessel In Vain explains that by being alone the narrator stays connected to everyone. Callahan can also be sweet, straight and needy: 'I could kiss you/The sun coming in through your blouse/Words won't tell me what your body's all about'.

Buy Supper. Well, order it online. In 20 years, pop stars could be capitalising on Callahan's flat voice by covering his songs, revealing tidy melodies and new meaning in his words.