Robbins’ first foray into music is a misstep compared to his successful acting career.
Andrew Mueller 2010
It is, yes, that Tim Robbins: star of The Player, The Shawshank Redemption, Mystic River; director of Dead Man Walking; Hollywood superstar; Oscar-winner, etc. He has left it a long time to realise the apparently long-burning ambition of his debut album, and it’s difficult to avoid wishing he’d left it a good while longer. Robbins has fallen prey to a hubris common among people successful in one area of the arts, ie the assumption that they’ll do as well at any other. Sadly, TR&TRGB is the approximate musical equivalent of David Bowie’s film career.
The most glaring problem is the most fundamental, which is that Robbins can’t sing. Granted that many of Robbins’ obvious musical idols – Steve Earle, Bob Dylan – aren’t traditionally gifted vocalists either, but they do bring gravitas, character, warmth and wit. Weirdly, given Robbins’ chops as an actor, he’s unable to infuse these songs with anything but pained bellows and dreary mumbles: symptoms, possibly, of a lack of confidence, but rather a trial to listen to.
The nine Robbins originals gathered here aren’t bad – rarely actually good, but competent, occasionally engaging. There will be those who ransack them in search of clues about the end of Robbins’ relationship with Susan Sarandon. It’s a strength and weakness of the album that it yields little revelation about its creator, beyond the fact that he’s a really big fan of Bruce Springsteen. Opening cut Book of Josie visits Philadelphia via Nebraska; Toledo Girl aspires to the company of Springsteen’s sepulchral road ballads; and Lightning Calls an attempt at the cockeyed optimism of Tunnel of Love.
What virtues the record has can largely be credited to the musicians behind him, among them sought-after sessioneers Kate St John, Leo Abrahams, Roger Eno and Rory McFarlane. They’re as versatile as they are capable, conjuring stately Tindersticks-style soul on Dreams, the giddy romp of Fisherman’s Blues-era Waterboys on You’re My Dare, and Bo Diddley boogie on Time to Kill. Their talents would have been better employed elsewhere, however, and Robbins should stick to the day gig.
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