Rusty Anderson has been an unsung hero of popular alternative music in the last 20 years. He’s been Paul McCartney’s right hand man and lead guitarist since 2001. He’s worked with Willie Nelson, Elton John and Regina Spektor. He even contributed the now-famous guitar riff to Ricky Martin’s “Livin’ La Vida Loca.” He’s a prolific musician with a prestigious profile. So needless to say, when he released his first album in ’05, Undressing Underwater, it attracted attention.
Now Anderson’s at it again with his latest upcoming album, Born On Earth, set to be released in early August. The album combines myriad influences with a strong and confident talent that only a well-traveled musician could muster. Yet despite its impressive effort, there are a few things missing from the album that cause it to fall short of success.
For starters, Born On Earth is massively inconsistent. It’s understandable that an artist with such varied talent would produce a variety of different sounds, but the songs just don’t fit together well when placed in context with the album, and sometimes they don’t fit well with themselves. The strings in the very beginning of the first and title track, “Born On Earth,” are lovely, but then they transition quickly into hard guitar riff with harsh screaming vocals. The transition is so blundered that it sounds like they’re practically two different songs.
The next song, “Timed Exposure,” is a serene swirling work of imagery in which Anderson sings, “I stayed in one place / watching the world on my TV.” It’s got all the power pop unearthliness that makes a good song. But too many good songs may be hurting the album in the long run.
Anderson’s spent so much time working with legendary performers on singles that he seems to have forgotten how to make an album stick together. He produces single after single, but they lack the adhesive congruence that holds an album together. The trippy mayhem of intricate guitar, organ, and David Bowie homage lyrics on “Private Moon Flower” are followed up by the morose Beatles-like reflection “Julia Roberts” which contrasts too strongly to maintain a strong syntax between the two songs.
In addition to a plague of inconsistency, Born On Earth suffers from bouts of predictability. There’s nothing on the album that sounds remotely like anything Anderson hasn’t already played before with one of his more famous colleagues. McCartney’s influences are obvious throughout the album, as are the works of many other artists. The song “These Are The Days” has some of the most cliché ’80s power-pop-rock lyrics I’ve ever heard.
Whether he’s a poignant crooner on piano-ridden emotive numbers like “Baggage Claim” or a Bono in his own sense on the alternative homage “New Beginning,” Anderson fits the mold too tightly to be believable. One minute he’ll be jamming with saxophones on “Funky Birthday Cake”, the next he’ll be ending the album with a spacey instrumental that sounds like Pink Floyd meets Nirvana (he deserves props for calling his final track “Intro”). They’re all legitimately cool songs in their own sense, but I just feel like I know as little about Anderson as an artist after listening to the album as I did going into it.
It would be cruel to say that the album has nothing going for it. Anderson is a very appealing and talented artist whose work is impressive anyway you look at it. The album is mildly fun, and the singles from it will be no doubt entertaining for a large audience. But the album as a whole can’t make up its mind. It’s not meant to be listened through track by track. It wants so badly to be so many things that it ends up being nothing at all, leaving the listener bewildered and ultimately scorning the clichés rather than praising the album for its variety.