The Californian’s 12th LP suggests he’s ready to be as celebrated as Richman and Reed.
Mischa Pearlman 2012-03-09
Thankfully, Jonathan Richman and Lou Reed are still with us and making music, so it’s inappropriate to talk about them as if they aren’t. That said, Chuck Prophet appears to be their natural successor (he’s even worked as a session musician for Richman). Though from San Francisco rather than New York, his songs are delivered with the same kind of relaxed drawl and are full of stories about the city that he lives in and the colourful characters that inhabit it.
Temple Beautiful is Prophet’s 12th studio album, not counting his work with psychedelic troupe Green on Red, and it delivers 12 gritty but soulful tracks full of philosophical musings, emotional outpouring and incisive metaphors. On one hand, it’s raw and stripped down, but on the other it’s expertly crafted – the sound of streets thousands of miles away brought into your living room, with all the lives that traverse along them.
Castro Halloween addresses that very American holiday with a twinge of pained regret overlying the gentle rock’n’roll chug of the tune, while Willie Mays Is Up At Bat – again, another very American reference – sees Prophet tell a tale of various characters as life continues on around them. It’s that ability – to zoom in on specific people while also presenting an overview of their surroundings – that adds to the similarity Prophet shares with Reed and Richman.
Museum of Broken Hearts, as its title suggests, is a slow, sad lament for love gone wrong which collects people from across centuries – "There’s a caveman, a soccer mom, a prison guard, a whore, there’s a virgin bride on her wedding day," Prophet croons, before revealing the universal truth that, "nobody is ever turned away".
As R.E.M. once noted, everybody hurts sometimes. Prophet's tone is not saccharine, however, but realistic – an ordinary idea expressed through poetic imagery to powerful effect. And that, really, is the heart of Temple Beautiful – it’s a collection of narratives and emotions and people all coexisting and revealed through Prophet’s idiosyncratic style. It’s something that Richman and Reed have been kings of doing for years. Perhaps it’s time to add another throne next to them.