Maximum points for self-awareness, you have to say. The title track of this pleasant, if largely underwhelming, album include the lines: “These recycled riffs aren’t going anywhere, any time.” Never a truer word spoken.
Here, this fitfully engaging singer-songwriter shuffles through predictable chord changes pinioned by forgettable piano riffs and intones — deploying an often exaggerated southern drawl somewhat at odds with his Pennsylvanian provenance — basic and repetitive melodies which stay in the memory for about the half-life of Oganesson and then vanish.
There is a pleasing twang to the guitar, bursts of scuzzy bottleneck and the occasional lap steel, but the songs go nowhere, as Kurt is generous enough to admit. It is an album which lapses into self-parody within thirty seconds of the start of each track: the dolorous drawl, the familiar lack of scansion and the over-weening introspection.
He pays homage to the late Tom Petty on “Tom Petty’s Gone (But Tell Him I Asked For Him),” but seemingly either doesn’t realize, or doesn’t care, that whatever Petty’s faults as a heartland songwriter, he was, in Robert Christgau’s words, a “catchy sumbitch.” Kurt can’t really do catchy. And he doesn’t, er, rock out, either.
Maybe it’s all worth it, at this time of the year, for “Must Be Santa,” which takes self-parody to lengths hitherto unimagined. “Who’s got a beard that’s long and white?” asks Kurt and the girls reply: “Santa’s got a beard that’s long and white.” Still no tune.
I know where Kurt Vile is coming from. But I haven’t a clue where he wishes to end up. And I’m not sure he has, either.