Steve Forbert: Strange Names and New Sensations

July 7, 2007

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I’ve had Strange Names and New Sensations for six weeks or so now, and I’m still not quite sure what to make of it. There are some cracking songs on it – Seaside Brown-Eyed Girl and Thirty More Years (“objects in the mirror may be just as they appear”) stand out for me – and two or three amusing side-tracks – Middle Age and Strange Names (North New Jersey’s Got ‘Em. The trouble is, there’s not very much to it.

I don’t know if I was spoilt by Just Like There’s Nothin’ to It, if that album is just wrapped up in memories or if JLTNTI is just genuinely an awful lot better, but Strange Names simply doesn’t hit me. I can’t imagine going ‘woo!’ for any of the songs on it if Steve Forbert were to play them live, except for Thirty More Years and… well, that brings me to Romeo’s Tune.

I’ve stated before and often that Romeo’s Tune is one of the best pop songs of my lifetime, probably the only Steve Forbert song you’re ever likely to hear on the radio (and even then, not all that likely). In concert, of course, he’ll play it with a guitar and a harmonica, and so there’s perhaps a legitimate reason for redoing it in that style, just for comparison. Yet something about it smacks of conservative desperation – “more people will buy it if it has Romeo’s Tune on, because they know it.” It’s too similar to the original, in my ears, and the changes don’t necessarily improve it much.

It’s not a bad album, by any means. It’s musically consistent, with a contented feel to it – Steve is clearly happy, probably in love (bless him) … but that doesn’t always make for great songwriting. Stories need tension; if you’re happy and in love, your stories generally suffer for it. It’s worth buying, but I’d not place it too highly in the Forbert pantheon: he’s done better, and he’ll do better again.

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