SEARCHIN' FOR THE THING THAT'S GOT NO NAME:
RICK SHAFFER CHANNELS HIS INNER BEAT MOJO ON “IDIOT FLATS”
Long story short: this record burns with a wicked swagger that most artists in today's marketplace would feel hard-pressed to match, let alone top.
We need some kind of rock 'n' roll highwaymen to wipe away those social ills that the original '77 punks hoped to blot from the landscape – yet continue to bubble over with a noxious fever that makes every cardboard '80s Steeltown movie landscape seem like paradise, by comparison.
Double-digit unemployment? Check. A never-ending drought that turned the most well-manicured lawn to brown? Double-check. The serpentine wind of consumer debt used to gut the American Dream, as in, “Keep the plebs quiet through interest rates that go up, up and away?” Triple-check . . . hell, the only missing ingredient is a royal jubilee (don't worry, somebody's probably got that scenario fleshed out in a drawer somewhere) . . . so this is what bowling alone got us, I guess.
With its repeated calls to flout conformity and convention, Idiot Flats makes the perfect soundscape for this social-Darwin-on-steroids-mess that we take for current culture. When I interviewed Rick for this site in the fall of 2010, he'd just released his first solo album, Necessary Illusion, which moved me to joke with him: "When the Rolling Stones finally figure out how to get their '64-era mojo back, it's gonna sound like this stuff.”
Those tendencies grew even further pronounced on Rick's second solo album, Hidden Charms, and burst gloriously to the fore here – wrapped around fuzz guitars, psychedelic drones and hill country blues, goosed along by shaker, or tambourine-driven backbeats (courtesy of Les Chisholm and the colorfully-named Boo Boo Spencer). Except for a few extra bass bits from Leon Wingfield, Rick's carrying the musical load here (guitar, bass, lead vocals and percussion).
And carry it, he does, from the opening bell of “Unforgiven Man,” a driving, '60s-ish slice of Beat manifesto that throws down (“get deep inside his naked eyes, he's got nothing to hide”), capped by some ad-libbed howls near the end: “Well, C'MON! Well, C'MON!” That's the perfect setup for “One More Heartache,” whose spaghetti western twangs can't mask its darker, freakbeat-tinged undercurrent, one born of convention-bustin' aggression (“Well, it's so bad/you don't know/end up doing just what you're told”).
Nostalgia-mongers don't fare any better here on “Around The Bend,” which clangs along a fuzz-guitar-laden R&B groove (“You keep on askin' me about the good old days/But I'm sorry, man, they're comin' to an end”). The same story goes for “Getting Low,” another declaration of intent (“Take it or leave it were words I often heard/Why are you so stressed and so disturbed?”) that marries its fuzzy chunk-a-chunk to some tastefully twangin' guitar leads, plus a six-pack of attitude (“I ain't wastin' time, just waiting on you/I'm getting busy, just seein' this through”).
That makes two more standouts in an album brimming with 'em, which is all down to Rick's strengths as an arranger – and is truly the secret weapon here. Just when you think it's impossible to wring anymore mileage from this brew of '60s garage, hill country blues and freak beat pysch, you get surprises like “Remember” – basically, an uptempo cocktail of the above-detailed elements, held together by a highly-mixed tambourine, one of many subtle textures put to good use here.
On “Idiot Flats,” Rick lets his Southwestern blueswailin' side hang out, over an understated, mid−tempo funky bed of drums and tambourine – as he recalls his chance encounter, Marquee Moon-style, with an old, been-there-done-that sage who warns him about the ways of the straight world (“This world gets too unkind/If you don't live/If you don't do/If you think now, brother, like they want you to”), and its never-ending encroachments on your life, but not in this particular company, where no tune breaches the four-minute mark – a welcome alternative to this age of CD and DVD bloat.
I could go on forever, but you get the idea. As I mentioned at the beginning, whether it's the state of rock 'n' roll, or our increasingly sorry, Soviet-style culture, we're way overdue for some changes – and Idiot Flats will give you the conviction to lead that charge. If you only know Rick from his New Wave pioneer era in The Reds®, you've heard half the story – the rest of it's here, and the contents will make you a believer out of you in a hurry. Here's to the real hissing of summer lawns!
— Highlights: Unforgiven Man, One More Heartache, Idiot Flats, Around The Bend, Getting Low
— Lowlights: None, dammit!
— Rating: 5 out of 5
• Chairman Ralph • Ministry Of Truth
(Ralph Heibutzki is the author of “Unfinished Business: The Life & Times of Danny Gatton." His articles have appeared in Bass Player, DISCoveries, Goldmine, Guitar Player, Vintage Guitar, and he is a regular contributor to the All Music Guide.)