Richard Buckner & Jon Langford
Sir Dark Invader vs. The Fanglord
o which one’s The Fanglord and which one’s Sir Dark Invader? Not that it’s some big riddle that must be solved in order to enjoy this steady set of country inflected rock tunes. But it does get one thinking. Over the last few years Richard Buckner’s work has lacked a certain punch. I don’t want to say that he’s phoning it in, it’s more like he’s trying too hard to recreate a legend to which he feels obligated. Dents And Shells was a minor success, but if you’re like me, it didn’t really stick to the ribs the way you were hoping. It got listened to a number of times and then somehow found its way to the bottom of the stack. Buckner seemed to be very conscious of being Richard Buckner on that record, if that makes sense. His reputation as a highly literate lyricist who can translate the immediacy of a broken heart into a thousand kaleidoscopic pieces each reflecting a different aspect of hurt, betrayal, recrimination, and abandonment, seemed to weigh heavily on that record. Buckner’s vocabulary, usually an amalgam of syllabic oddities anyway, was unusually unapproachable even for him. Instead of creating a tone that reflected his internal struggles, always his greatest strength, Dents And Shells was a carefully constructed wall between him and the listener. I found myself thinking, lighten up just a bit, give me something to grasp on to and let me into these songs. Dents And Shells inapproachability makes Buckner’s project with The Mekon’s Jon Langford all the more precious.
Recorded in 2002 at Mekon Sally Timm’s apartment in Chicago, Sir Dark Invader vs. The Fanglord clearly shows Buckner benefiting from working with The Mekons’ Jon Langford. The disc’s nine songs are evenly split: three written by Langford, three by Buckner, and three collaboratively. As might be expected from a project involving Langford things are played loose and fast. There isn’t a weepy ballad in the bunch. Instead Buckner and Langford concentrate on getting songs on to tape (or hard drive) without too much fuss. The two play all the instruments with a touch of help from John Rice of the Pine Valley Cosmonauts on mandolin and guitar.
Album opener “Rolling of the Eyes,” one of the jointly written numbers, is a rousing rock song full of sizzling electric guitar work and a thumping fuzzed out bass line. It’s a take no prisoners stomp that sets the tone of the record as one of unabashed (if sloppy) fun. You can almost hear the beer bottles falling off the amps.
”Nothing To Show” is a sweet duet between Langford and Buckner. As they trade off direct, plainspoken verses it’s clear that Langford was the lyricist on this one. The remarkable thing about the song is not how well these two gruff voices fit together (and that’s pretty remarkable), but how expressive Buckner’s voice is when he’s not forcing the words through a filter so intensely personal that we can’t even recognize the landscape, much less identify with it. Being forced to walk through someone else’s lyrical musings frees his voice to dance through his verses without a trace of self-consciousness.
A twinkling mandolin anchors Buckner’s “Sweet Anybody.” The lyrics are classic lost love Buckner as he chases a “sweet anybody” through the song, hiding in sound, searching the night, before discovering the windows that pop up in so many of his best songs “finally gone.” It’s everything that Buckner does right. It may be too easy to read into, but it must be assumed that Langord to some degrees is responsible for prying out such beautiful insight from Buckner.
While this project is certainly a collaborative effort, it’s Buckner who seems to dominate the proceedings. His deeply affecting voice easily muscles Langford’s reedier strains to the side. It’s also clear that Langford’s presence throughout Sir Dark Invader vs. The Fanglord is what enables Buckner to play things far looser than he has on his recent solo work. The collaborative “The Inca Princess,” for instance, ends with Buckner and Langford laughing into the song’s decay. It’s a refreshing bit of humanity and typical of the album’s feel.
Buckner’s closing song, “Do You Wanna Go Somewhere,” had it appeared on Dents And Shells would have been an album highlight. It’s warm and steady and too short at two minutes and forty-one seconds. But it’s a reminder that Sir Dark Invader with all his baggage and idiosyncratic habits can make us believe in his weeping and may yet again.
Reviewed by: Peter Funk
Reviewed on: 2005-08-03