In the early ’80s, Tall Dwarfs, Chris Knox’s lo-power duo with Alec Bathgate, spearheaded the 4-track recording boom. Now pushing 56, Knox has another band and he’s championing another sonic innovation. The band is The Nothing, which has shifted from being the New Zealander’s backing combo to being the combo in which he writes and sings all the songs and plays most of the guitar parts. The big tech-step forward is mono, which spares us the to-ing and fro-ing of sounds from speaker to speaker in favor of one broad signal. I can’t help but think that this is a dissenting voice from the hegemony of mp3s, an assertion that one big punch beats a bunch of puny, alternating pummels. But since he lives at the bottom of the world and hopes to sell enough of these things through the mail to make some sort of a living, Knox hasn’t made the ultimate mono statement and pressed the songs on 45 rpm donuts.
Gear talk aside, Knox isn’t saying much he hasn’t said before here. Both lyrically and musically, A Warm Gun affirms values that he’s held to throughout his career. The album’s name clues us to his love of the Beatles; on “She’s Leaving Him,” he uses a song from Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band as the staging ground for the latest round between one of his favorite targets and protagonists, the hapless guy with his head stuck in the sand and the fed-up woman whose love can’t redeem him.
Lazily deployed, familiarity invites contempt, but here it adds acuity to the dissection. A splendid quivering organ sound that could have reverberated in a garage back in the ’60s doesn’t hurt either. Knox has already confessed to Dusted his adoration of the Velvet Underground (here). He zeroes in on the best elements of their ballads – words that cut both ways and little guitar leads as sweet as ripe peaches – and confirms their timeless utility. Having a good-old-fashioned beat combo to back him up serves Knox well. They supply a lot of the rumble and rhythm that keeps this record from lapsing into the saminess that has marred certain Knox solo discs. This is no null set.