3 1/2 out of 5 stars
Videos by American Songwriter
To paraphrase Brian Wilson, Nick Waterhouse just wasn’t made for these times. As if to confirm that, this new album, his sixth in a decade-long career, is recorded in mono.
But the cool, jazz/bluesy/pop and lushly orchestrated music featured on Promenade Blue (2021) is replaced on The Fooler with a more psychedelic, still retro approach. This change in musical direction coincides with a move from his longtime San Francisco home to France, leaving this collection as a song cycle of sorts to his old hometown.
Early single “Hide and Seek” has Waterhouse doing his best Ricky Nelson for a wistful ballad with out-of-body female vocals punctuating the chorus as if being beamed in from fifty years ago. Elsewhere he shifts into a laconic but forceful Roy Orbison vibe on “The Problem with a Street,” lamenting that the thoroughfare reminds him of an ex-love who walked away. On “Late in the Garden,” you may think the playlist has shifted to an obscure Velvet Underground cut, circa their first album, you haven’t heard before.
Waterhouse moves to a modified “These Boots are Made for Walking” groove on “Plan for Leaving” complete with mariachi horns and snappy lyrics of I got a plan for livin’ and a plan for leavin’. When he sings They always said I had a melancholic streak, that can be applied to his songwriting on these often lyrically forlorn selections, albeit ones with pensive, brooding yet melodic pop-leaning strains.
I am the fool and you are The Fooler he sings on the reflective title track as an acoustic guitar, stand-up bass, and tinkling piano underscore those words. The thumping beat pushing “Unreal, Immaterial” harkens back to early Jefferson Airplane emerging from their folk roots into a more rock-infused thump. Its concepts of Reflections of reflections tilt, Clicking down the arcing stairs, Alabaster arms, Arlesian hair seemingly emerge from a narcotic-induced altered state. But the easy ’60s groove of “Play to Win” returns to Waterhouse’s earlier sound for a song that could have been written five decades prior.
Waterhouse combines bits of the Mavericks’ south-of-the-border Latin inflections with Willie DeVille’s soulful croon and poignant, wistful vocals on finely crafted songs that may take a few spins to connect. These contemplative, sometimes hypnotic, tunes might be the soundtrack for when the party is winding down with just a few couples left polishing off that last bottle of wine, ready to languidly wander home through empty, urban streets at 3 AM.
Photo by James Michael Juarez