We needn’t go into detail about our adoration of Ezra Furman, both as a human and an artist, glowing and glarings as can be, you’d be hard-pressed to find another quite like Ezra. The latest LP from Furman, Twelve Nudes, which is released today on Bella Union, is another reminder that he is an artist unto himself and no other.
A 27-minute rip-roaring punk party, Twelve Nudes, comprised of just eleven songs (we will get to that in a minute), is Furman staying true to his MO and displaying every beating, pulsating organ for his audience to peruse with unwavering honesty and charm.
From the moment the first track ‘Calm Down AKA I Should Not Be Alone’ thunders into your ears, you’re well aware of what you’re in for. This will be a crash course in how to make punk feel modern, how to add a pinch of personality and a hefty dose of veracity to an otherwise somewhat vacuous genre. Furman is making punk feel subversive again and he’s doing it by adding a heart (and a catchy melody) to the fuzzy fury.
“I wasted my twenties in submission” starts the next track ‘Evening Prayer AKA Justice’ and with it shoot goosebumps across this writer’s ageing arms. What follows is a rousing review of Furman’s complacent 20s that feels accessible and authentic. Screeching vocals across the doo-wop punk sound Ezra has made his own adds a bounce to an otherwise confusing subject matter.
The punky sound, more prevalent in this record than in previous LP Transangelic Exodus and much of Furman’s recent output, is a welcome exhalation of angst. The distorted blast of ‘Rated R Crusaders’ and ‘Blown’ as well as the poppier tones of ‘Thermometer’ allows the steam to escape the kettle, a release of fury that is most definitely needed when dealing with the subjects at hand; namely, Ezra himself.
Stand out single of the record, ‘I Wanna Be Your Girlfriend’, is a welcomed sweet relief from the unrelenting acid of the album. A soothing and soulful, if not inebriated, ballad, it pitches Ezra contemplating the idea of identity and individualism while marinating our musical minds in the melody of the sweetest sounds of the sixties.
The self-analysis, in truth, runs through the entirety of the album. It’s a record born from the true expression of the artist, who at this moment, is finding it difficult to reconcile his reality with his ageing aspirations. Luckily for us, one of those aspirations remains strong and true. Ezra Furman is an artist to the bone.
In fact, he encourages us to reflect throughout the album. With rock and roll likely acting as a relief for Furman when growing up, as it did most of us, now with the world seemingly crumbling around us, he asks what can music really do? He leaves contemplating this notion with a strikingly poignant counterpoint – ‘What Can You Do But Rock and Roll?’ offering up the only real solution; keep on doing your best. That’s it. That’s the lesson.
With Twelve Nudes Ezra Furman has excelled in a myriad of ways. He has effectively travelled back in time, borrowed the dizzy distortion of Day of the Dog (one of our favourite records) and added in the personal affections of Perpetual Motion People and created a body of work that is both ferocious and vulnerable. He has moved into a new wheelhouse of songwriting, the kind of wheelhouse that legends like Jonathan Richman and Lou Reed have occupied at times.
It’s the overlapping luxury of a musical Venn diagram that includes a punk ethos, a raw and open honesty, a sumptuous songmanship, and most importantly of all; an unashamed nakedness that has endeared him to so many appreciative audiences.
Twelve Nudes is eleven candid songs and one exposed, and brilliant, artist.