Alex Dezen II: February 2017 Album of the Month

Alex Dezen
Pledge Music/Warner-Tamerlane

"What killed rock n' roll?" The endless discussions over that question have become a bore since it's impossible to argue for or against a proposition with a false supposition. Rock n' roll has been around since the early days of recording; it just took the genre inventors a few decades to evolve the term. It hasn't gone anywhere either–what's changed is that it doesn't make hearts pound the way it used to. In my humble opinion, that's because a lot of rock became too tame. Rock is best when it's in-your-face music. I love ballads and pretty songs, but that's not rock's forte–a good rock song should unsettle, not make you weak in the knees. And that's why Alex Dezen is fast becoming my favorite rocker. The second full-length solo release from the ex-Damnwells front man is titled Alex Dezen II, which won't win any best title awards, but those who tune in will encounter a simmering dynamo.

You'll have to seek Dezen's songs online as they won't be playing on an FCC-approved radio station near you. Not with titles like "Fuck or Fight," or lyrics such as: Well there's semen on the mattress/And I haven't even kissed her yet/And there's bloodstains on the lampshade/The floor's covered with rabbit shit. That's the opening line of "Holding on to You (Holding on toMe)," which probes a relationship so twisted all he can say about it is it: was worth the sex but not the shame. Yeah, we're talking gritty, not pretty. Dezen's rock dances on the sharp side of the razor. "When You Give Up" has a catchy tune, but it's a song that challenges one and all to answer the question: What you gonna be/When you give up? He's not a defeatist—just a guy who knows it doesn't matter if you're a priest or an archbishop/Or maybe a gambler who calls and bluffs; sometimes scenarios aren't going to play out the way you mapped them.

Dezen's music is lyric-driven and thought provoking. He can swing his axe, but he generally doesn't try to dazzle with guitar chops and opts for sonics that ring, frame, and reverberate. He uses those as his hooks because he also knows that rock has got to grab you by the scruff of the neck, which means a memorable melody, not just noise.  Check out the simple but exceedingly heavy lines in "Randolph Tonight," a road song with the honest recognition that the people coming out to hear music don't give a damn about the baggage you're carrying. No woe-is-me stuff from Dezen: I gotta bury my cross/And play my ass off/In Randolph tonight. And then there's a very different kind of confessional, "I Am a Racist." No—it's not a redneck anthem; it's a searing exploration of what it means to grow up in America with white privilege. Part of that burden is the psychic damage to people such as himself and he's not letting anyone else out of the hot seat: I am a racist/Of this there is little doubt/Black and brown faces/Make me nervous…. Now I don't want to be this way/But what can I say?This is how America raised me/To always be afraid/Don't take the blame/And you're probably exactly the same. Ouch! The closest Dezen gets to wholesome is imaging his mother's afterlife in "New York to Paradise," though what he sings suggests moms was a kick-butt kinda gal. One of my favorite tracks also wields a double-edged sword: "Everything's Great (Everything's Terrible)," which vaguely reminded me of something Paul Simon might write but wouldn't have the moxie to record. If you're tired of wimpy forms of rock (art/glam/country/diva) and want to hear stuff that won't ever be made into a beer ad, check out Alex Dezen. Here's a statement: The final track is titled "Boys of Bummer." What? You were expecting "You Are My Sunshine?" Rock n' roll isn't dead, but Alex Dezen sure did give it a swift kick in the ass.     

Rob Weir

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