MARK MALLMAN Invincible Criminal CD

Track number four, "White Leather Days," is the sweet spot on Mark Mallman's sixth solo studio album. Its listing riffs break on a Lodger-worthy harmony over a crisp backbeat, with lyrics reflecting on unspent youth: All the restless summers / we felt our way in the dark / your little boom box pumpin' / 'Love Will Tear us Apart' / The only thing I tore was the jeans I wore / Guess you gotta kick before you score.

Mallman's deadpan craftsmanship might be overshadowed by a crazed retro rocker persona. The Minneapolis-based keyboardist makes good blog with brilliant stunts pulled from marginal resources-most notably for performing a fifty-two hour-long song live on stage. Invincible Criminal does justice to the reputation. Its dozen songs feel unified like a proper album ought, buffed up by Mallman's deft DIY production with arena ambitions. Key tracks like "Light the Dynamite and Run," "Eternal Moonshine," "Can't Count to One" and "Put Your Collar Up" lift motifs from massive 80s pop-rock. You might hear echoes of Springsteen, Cory Hart, solo Eagles, some Randy Newman sneaking up from behind, perhaps some Night Ranger, and Bowie, again—check that nod to Alladin Sane's nod to Gershwin at the tail of the fantastic title track. Turning dust into gold is delicate work that skirts dangerously close to nostalgia. Invincible Criminal's soaring synth chords and well-tempered electric guitars hit specific rock buttons of the mullet era, but irony is light. Mallman mines veins that the average merely strip, or are too smug to love. Some of his lyrics go a little giddy with ruminations on aging (the second worst subject in popular music, behind the subject of songwriting itself) and there are suspect shout outs to New York City—culminating in a transparent, uninspiring, cameo from the Hold Steady's Craig Finn. Such content risks might chaff if the musicianship and arrangements were less imaginative and gutsy. Invincible Criminal is one half awesome rock-n-roll fantasy, one half melancholy pop invitational. Wipe those tears on your skinny keyboard tie. You can dance if you want to. [Badman]

-Patrick Whalen



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