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Jandek - Khartoum

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Artist: Jandek

Album: Khartoum

Label: Corwood

Review date: Jan. 22, 2006

Jandek has been doing this for a long time now. Since 1978 he has released 43 albums of intensely “emotional” folk ditties. You would have thought by now that he would have got his shit together. But Khartoum is yet another gloomy collection of his endless stream of blues-based dirges. Atonal guitar chords grumble behind Jandek’s off-key, straining vocals to create patterns of desperate lethargy and misery. On one track he groans “I shot myself.” Less forgiving folk may be left to wonder, “if only he had aimed for his throat” (well, a bullet in the larynx worked for Charley Patton). If I incur the wrath of a million angry fan boys with this review then so be it. Can we finally stop skirting around the issue using endless bouts of amateur psychoanalysis to rescue the career of a pained artist from his artistic gutter? His growing legion of followers is probably more culpable in this whole affair than their idol, feeding off of crumbs of information where, in the place of a dinner table rests a vacuum. The answers to so many questions need to come from Jandek, not those who are designing their own fantasy gloom minstrel. Why does this man keep recording the same song over and over again? And is it having the desired effect? Do we really need another album from the underground’s false prophet? Okay, so his pain might be real but do I really have to go through every fucking moment with him? And do I need to pay for the experience? (Okay, so this was a freebie.) It remains a matter of debate whether Jandek is even conscious of the myth that surrounds him.

Last year saw Jandek finally come out of hiding with a series of high-profile performances. These dented the air of mystery previously cultivated by a policy of never playing out combined with an extremely low-level media profile. Without that crutch of anonymity he is slowly being reduced to the status of yet another musician treading the boards. Stripped of his outsider’s cachet his music is left to do the talking. On Khartoum the emperor of tantrum blues is beginning to look pretty naked. In fact, the best thing about this release is the cover, featuring an out of focus photograph of Jandek wearing a rather fetching prayer hat. Or is that a dunce’s cap?

By Spencer Grady

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