Squint: Steve Taylor

Art Clippings
June 1994 Issue 3
© 1994 The ART Club
Pages 24-25
Thanks to Dan Kennedy

Warner Alliance, 1993. 10 songs, 43:35. Produced by Steve Taylor.

Pass the tissue. It's true, Chagall Guevara is dead. Of course, fans have known that for some time, but we know that Taylor, Perkins, and Nichols would resurface somewhere, sometime. Well, now is that time--Taylor, with his solo album, and Perkins and Nichols with Passafist. But alas, the ghost of the Chagall Guevara does not linger here.

I'll try to tread lightly here because I don't believe Squint is a bad album, and I truly believe Steve Taylor has a gift--a gift of satire and wit. But like most gifts, this onw has its drawbacks-- the chief one being that, unguarded, satire can rob stores of their soul and characters of their... character. In order for a writer ot use satire to do anything more than make us laugh, he must first develop his characters. He must make his creations believable, relatable.

I submit that character development is the most important aspect of any story--be it a song, literature, or a movie. You can have an interesting, innovative plot, novel ideas, profound truth, and even witty dialog, but if your characters aren't real to the audience, who cares about what happens to them or what they have to say. Failure to recognize this is at the heart of my problem with Squint, Steve Taylor's first solo outing since his Chagall Guevara days.

In many ways, Steve Taylor's writing has improved. His words flow and the lines seldom seem forced in any way. But, as so often happens with growing songwriters, they learn cerebrally how to write better and loose the essence, the innocence, the soul of their songs. I come away from Squint neither mentally nor emotionally affected. And I expected to. Songs like "Bannerman," "Sock Heaven," and "Cash Cow" clearly illustrate my point. The songs aren't as bad as I expected; Steve is not overly coy or judgmental, but he is coy. Even the deranged ice cream man in "I Blew Up the Clinic Real Good" was more believable. I leave these songs neither laughing nor enlightened. It's as if Steve couldn't choose between making a novelty album and making a serious album, and instead chose some unhappy medium.

On the positive side--well, I've already mentioned his technical writing improvement. The music does contain some of Chagall's edge. Jerry McPherson's guitars are crunchy, Phil Madeira keyboards are tasteful and sparsely used, and of course Mike Mead's drums are combustible.

None of that however makes up, in my mind, for Squint's lack of character. There's nothing as moving as "Rub Of Love," "To Forgive," or "Harder To Believe." There's nothing as contagious as "Escher's World" or "Since I Gave Up Hope I Feel A Lot Better," and nothing as incendiary as "Jim Morrison's Grave" or as grinding as "Monkey Grinder," and the melody lines are a little too pronounced for my tastes. However my chief complaint is that it seems as if the characters, as if humanity, is secondary to the idea Steve wants to convey, as if human life is just an incidental part of the natural and divine order. I just don't believe that, and I can't believe that Steve believes that. Even Steve's references are more common, not Jung, Escher, Morrison, Love Canal, but Koresh, Spago and Sizzler, Master Limbaugh and Madame Streisand. This is no longer the musical equivalent of Dennis Miller (though Steve's shots were always aimed in other directions).

I'm sure if I were still fourteen, I would love this album. But I'm not fourteen, and this isn't my first glimpse at an intelligent songwriter. I dislike this album chiefly because I have too much respect for Steve Taylor's abilities. So next time, can we have some characters and not just caricatures? Maybe it's just hanging out with The Newsboys. Maybe he's content or actually wants to be a teen sensation (though, by far, the most intelligent one writing). Maybe I'm just being cranky, but please wake me if Mr. Taylor turns his wit on new subjects or starts telling stories.

And now I must apologize to Msr. Taylor and his legion of fans (pen in hand, no doubt), because now I must review Passafist. Well, on second thought, I won't because that would mean I'd have to sit through the whole CD.

I would like to leave it there, but my conscience just won't let me. The truth is I don't listen to enough industrial music to fairly evaluate Passafist. All I know is that it's not what I hope for, it's not what I like, and it doesn't remind me of the two industrial groups I do like (generally)... NIN and Mortal.

Tim Porter