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Chris Knox - Chris Knox & The Nothing

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Artist: Chris Knox

Album: Chris Knox & The Nothing

Label: A Major Label

Review date: Jan. 16, 2007

Chris Knox has been a fixture of New Zealand’s music scene since the '70s, when he rode the record industry’s fast-track conveyor belt to exhaustion with Toy Love. In the '80s, his duo Tall Dwarfs helped show the way for the Kiwi names you know better to make records at home on their own terms; as a major player for Flying Nun Records, his irrepressible presence (or at least the loan of his 4-track) helped the Clean, the Chills, the Verlaines, and This Kind Of Punishment (amongst many others) to get their early efforts to wax. For almost as long he’s been making solo records, which have mostly consisted of home-recorded songs with big buzzing guitar hooks, dumb-as-rocks drum loops, and unchecked rant against society’s pressures to conform. But times change, and with them associations and methods; this is Knox’s first effort on his own A Major Label, and it’s also a fairly involved studio recording with an honest-to-goodness band with strings, horns, and Jol Mulholland on bass and Stefan Neville (a.k.a. Pumice) on drums.

While Knox is identified with punk and lo-fi, he’s always been a pop omnivore; you’ll hear echoes of Gary Glitter, the Beatles, Slade, the Velvet Underground, and Eno, amongst others, in his crunchy guitar rhythms and catchy vocal melodies. He’s also at his best when he’s collaborating, since the records he’s made by himself often suffer from a lack of self-editing. Knox is definitely in the driver’s seat here, but the presence of others still seems to focus him; while there are an awful lot of songs to digest (18, which add up to 70 minutes of playing time), none of them stick in your gullet. His lyrical stance remains that of an earnest, PC kind of guy outraged at the excesses of consumerism, machismo, and especially societal dictates of normality; at an age when most men are glad to settle for mere grumpiness, he sounds genuinely rageful on “Outa Here” and “Doughnut.” He also faces psychopathology head-on; he’s sympathetic to “The Lukewarm Bath’s” withdrawn and dry drunk, but doesn’t let him off the hook. But Knox never stays mad long — he’s a mocker as much as a rocker, more inclined to lampoon than harpoon.

By Bill Meyer

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