Scott Free's THE PINK ALBUM - "The Wound that Never Heals"
Scott Free remains one of the most important (and beloved) gay male musical artists within the venerable pantheon of politically "out"-spoken LGBT pop songwriters. It's no small secret how much he means to these ears - My past reviews championing his work are on public record. When I first began the monthly Gay Guitarists Worldwide monthly artists interview back in 2004 - I could think of no other than Scott to inaugurate the feature's series.
As an avid collector and listener of Scott's many previous cds, what can I say of his latest effort? Well, first off - it's pure Scott! And as one can surmise by it's title, THE PINK ALBUM is specifically "gay" in the strongest political sense possible.
Musically speaking, THE PINK ALBUM is similar to Scott's past work in that its songs are typically short (around 3 minutes - often less). Scott's poetic style of lyric writing is still as intense and dark as ever - as is his gay-victimization-angst.
Although the album is sub-titled "a pop opera" - this listener hears it as more as a pop "oratorio". There is no dramatic action or plot development per se, as in opera - but there is an abundance of remembered emotional/physical/psychological pain... and lots of self-hating shame to overcome... both tragic but necessary starting points for the life-quest that leads to what Scott calls our gay "self-acceptance".
Sub-groups of songs on the album are seperated into several "acts" - each act containing songs grouped together thematically and proceeding chronologically - i.e. songs about being an unhappy gay youth; songs related to the AIDS crisis; songs about male-to-male romance, etc.
In previous albums Scott explored hip-hop, hard core and punk musical styles as avenues for his brutally frank queer poetry. In THE PINK ALBUM, Scott reveals an affinity for a softer, more jazz-tinged approach. Several of its songs open with a kind of mellow, rambling, improvisational vocal recitative. In the opening track "Overture" - it's Scott on trumpet - playing a haunting melody that harkens back to the elegiac"Unanswered Question" of Charles Ives (an official theme of sorts for the gay community during the early, tragic AIDS years).
Scott's past recordings often featured his ragged, rage-filled style of guitar playing . However, THE PINK ALBUM is more keyboard-based - with Scott on piano, organ, electric piano, synthesizer, etc. This listener hears influences ranging from Todd Rundgen to Joe Jackson - with a random touch of zoot-suited Brian Setzer (track 8 - "Meet Mr. Right") and protest-march Bob Dylan (track 9 - "Free") thown in. There is an overall sad quality to this album (clearly punctuated by Scott's mopey visage in the cd's cover photo). It is reminiscent of the "lonely" phase of The Beatles, as found in their Penny Lane/Eleanor Rigby/St. Peppers circa-1967 era. My favorite tracks include "Side Effect" with it's bombastic, exploratory Theolonious Monk-meets-Charles Ives-meets Frank Zappa chord progressions; and "Better" - about a man fighting a losing battle with AIDS. The lyrics in this song are pure distilled poetry. No songwriter stares death in face as disturbingly honest as Mr. Free.
In all Scott Free albums - lyrics are the most powerful ingredient. And like his past recordings, THE PINK ALBUM 's words manage to encompass the full range of sufferings gays have endured in this modern world. Scott's style of delivery - which can be savagely matter-of-fact; pitiable and self-deprecating; "Act Up"-like tantrum throwing; strident and even joyless - is key to understanding the unique power, innocence and charm of this very special artist.
Yes, there are many anti-gay elements in life which have, in our history, persecuted us. There are gays who've come to "forgive and forget". There are those who've come to "forgive but never forget". The songs on THE PINK ALBUM neither forgive nor forget. The tragic side of gay life is for Scott - to paraphrase Wagner's Parsifal, "The Wound That Never Heals". Jesus-like, Amfortas-like, Scott reveals his pierced heart, again and again, for us all to contemplate. He wanders this world - a genial gentle giant on the outside - yet a terribly hurt, bittered soul within.
About THE PINK ALBUM, Scott says, "These are songs of my generation". The gay establishment (now quite well-established); gay arts & culture; youth-oriented gay media; gay/straight relations and the younger gay generation now comprise a different queer world from the one of a generation ago. It will be interesting to observe just how they take to the difficult, generational remembrances Scott Free dredges up in THE PINK ALBUM. - Robert Urban - GAY GUITARISTS WORLDWIDE - URBAN PRODUCTIONS, NYC
More on Scott Free and THE PINK ALBUM at http://stampedeproductions.net/mrscottfree/
December 2004 INTERVIEW with
by Robert Urban
Though more famous for his iconic songwriting and startling poetic-punk lyrics, Scott Free (www.scottfree.net) is also an accomplished, inventive & very unique guitar talent. In December 2004 he celebrates the release of his new cd - "THEY CALL ME MR. FREE". Scott talks about his latest recording and guitar playing in our exclusive Gay Guitarists SCOTT FREE Interview.
What make/model is the acoustic guitar with all the porn photos on it in that cool poster of you?
Well, let's see - maybe some member of the group could help us out with this one. It's a classical guitar that I 'borrowed' from my sister many years ago - I think she got it at a thrift store. It's got a K label (yes, stick-on label) at the top.
What make/model electric guitar are you bringing on tour in 2004-2005?
I'm bringing the two guitars that I used - a Larrivee acoustic (OMV-03) and a circa '90s Fender Stratocaster electric.
What guitar amps did you use on THEY CALL ME MR. FREE?
Well, actually everthing just went through a pre-amp and a POD - I record at my apartment and don't record at loud volumes
How did you get your guitar sounds?
About the only thing I might do is mess with eq's - two guitars with radically different eq's gives a nice sound.
What's your favorite guitar solo or passage on the cd?
I love the Robert Urban solo (hi Robert!) on 'Ronald Reagan's Funeral' - he did it in a separate studio with very minimal instruction!
I do like the overall guitar sounds I got on 'Piss on Me' - it's a mixture of electric and acoustic.
Any special guitar tones/effects/approaches u used/discovered that u really liked?
The Larrivee and the POD are new purchases since the last CD, so the biggest changes in my sound came from those.
Any interesting little guitar or bass stories in the making of the cd?
Well, on 'Never Again and Again' I used my mother's autoharp and a mandolin that was my grandfather's!
Any thoughts on the guitar and what it's meant to you in your musical life?
I grew up playing piano and played trumpet though my school years. I came to the guitar as an adult. I am most of all a songwriter, and by learning how to play the guitar, it opened up the possibilities of my songwriting immensely.
At what age did you come "out"? How "out" are you? (LOL - JUST KIDDING!)
I came out to everyone right after college - I knew from a very young age - before I had a name for it. About the only time I am in the closet is when I meet someone that I know is pretty hardcore religious. They often have a prejudice that's been supported by their church. I come out to them gradually, after they start to know me as a person. It's my way of trying to fight the prejudice.
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