Spectrum Meets Captain Memphis - "The Lonesome Death of Johnny Ace" (Indian Giver)
Spectrum Meets Captain Memphis sounds like an awkward alliance, and there are many, many directions in which it could’ve gone. In its architecture, it’s a damned sight more cohesive than it could’ve been, which is a credit to the broad aural intuition involved, and intuition born of wide-ranging experimentation and experience. Peter Kember (a/k/a Spectrum, a/k/a Sonic Boom, one of the three Spacemen) and producer Jim Dickinson (former Dixie Flyer, Big Star collaborator, and surrealist shit-talker) share enough of a vision to take a lot of seemingly disparate ideas and make them hold together as an album.
"The Lonesome Death Of Johnny Ace", a protracted hum about a suicidal rock star, is the obvious intended centerpiece. Superficially, it sounds like Johnny Cash fronting Suicide. It also provides a case for investing in a decent pair of headphones––it sounds as though it has all the souls in hell compressed into its backdrop, struggling against the weight of its lumbering, repetitive hook. Dickinson’s low, flat vocal sounds as if it’s transmitted through an old Walkman with flaking batteries.
That’s only a modest preview of his performances on “Til Your Mainline Comes” and “The Old Cow Died,” acerbic monologues that echo the kitschy, referential absurdity of Sun City Girls’ “Uncle Jim” skits (“You know you’re out of luck / When you’re the guy at the cockfight with Donald Duck,” or “Once again the dreaded predator / Swings through the trees of my paranoia / And out across catfish bottom”), but with nary a hint of the rage and a triple-shot of the weary, old-man fatalism (“We’re dinosaurs from the past / Thank you very much, ladies and germs / The band is gonna play a little number you’re not gonna like / Entitled ‘Papa Can’t Fly His Kite No More / ‘Cause Mama Won’t Give Him No Tail’ / It ain’t but a little bit / Stir it up / The whole world is alive by the spoonful”). Corny, yes. But, right from the kraut-rockin’ opening theme, Spectrum and Captian Memphis establish a synergy that helps them nail the campy noir aesthetic that gives life to this sort of thing. It’s not the jokes that compel the audience, but the holographic world from which they emerge, and these guys know and inhabit that world.
In terms of song selection, Kember’s showcases almost throw the whole concern back into frivolous side-project territory––he covers his own "Take Your Time" and Mudhoney's cutesy “I Wanna Be Your Dog” rewrite, "When Tomorrow Hits.” But in terms of context, even these fit right in there. Dickinson’s deep-fried-soul experience brings a new, greasy sizzle to both, particularly “Take Your Time,” which entirely justifies their attendance at this otherwise self-contained theme party.