The consummate entertainer shows he can still bring the funnies.
Louis Pattison 2010-08-18
If you’ve attended one of his live shows, you will already be aware that Chilly Gonzales – the Canadian-born major label rocker turned lounge-pop Lothario, ‘pranksta’ rapper and skilled solo pianist – is one of the most flat-out entertaining performers presently walking the boards. What Gonzales has always struggled with, however, is turning the sweaty anarchy, garrulous wordplay and virtuosic classical piano of his concerts into something that works coherently on record. 2004’s Solo Piano worked beautifully, albeit by excising the clowning altogether. 2008’s 70s soft rock-inspired Soft Power, meanwhile, was conceptually brilliant, but apparently proved too oddball for a UK record company to take a punt on – and what is an entertainer without his audience?
Ivory Tower may not solve this conundrum. This is not to say it is bad – it is not – but instead of honing in on one corner of Gonzo’s craft, it branches out yet further. While a talented producer in his own right, here we find Chilly collaborating with Berlin dance producer Boys Noize, re-rendering the elaborate, minimalist-flavoured piano debuted on Solo Piano as louche, polished Euro-disco with one beady eye on the chill-out dollar. It is often much better than this sounds: take the likes of Knight Moves and Smothered Mate, which match Philip Glass-style melodies to simmering club rhythms with an smart charm that makes much modern downbeat sound cheap by comparison. You Can Dance, meanwhile, harks back to the soft-rock kitsch of Soft Power, all white funk, hand claps and big choruses sung with teeth agleam.
More awkwardly placed here are Gonzo’s vocal turns, semi-rapped rhyming couplets rammed with smart wordplay and epic self-aggrandisement. This worked a charm on the prankster hip hop of 2000’s The Entertainist, but sits slightly oddly on the pulsing techno-lite of I Am Europe. “I’m a dog s*** ashtray,” declares Gonzo, “I’m a shrugging moustache wearing a Speedo tuxedo.” Sure you are.
Still, The Grudge is proof he can still bring the funnies – a plea for beef conducted from the comfort of a piano stool: “See, what I need is enemies, please – a nemesis, or nemeses / They say revenge is just like sashimi – best served cold, so shiver when you see me.”
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