Black Cat, by McQueen

                                                                                                      16 November 2019

I’m not a professional reviewer. I don’t write reviews for a living, as evidenced by this shaky opening and the meandering lengths I’m destined to go. I am however compelled from time to time to share my opinion on paper or page or screen or whatever. At a few clicks past halfway to 100, I’ve accumulated my fair share of opinions about all manner of things: movies and magic and music and muchness…all sorts of sundry shit.

After growing up in the theater, spending 20 years playing original music in a band, and being around all sorts of funky, interesting, intelligent folks, I know what inspires me, I know what turns me off, and I also know how to allow for new experiences to enhance my perception.

I create from my limited perspective. I tell you what the house looks like from the room I inhabit. It’s refreshing and necessary though, to see it from another angle or a different room altogether. To let go of even my idea of the word, house.

I’m not talking heavy idealogical issues here. No man. We do not need to be tolerant of any ideas that refuse to tolerate “others.” Suck it to that ism.

I’m talking about creativity. Spontaneity. Artistic expression. It’s exciting to be drawn into an artist’s vision, especially when it’s of something you see or hear or experience on a regular basis, but from an entirely fresh perspective, with a twist you wouldn’t have thought of because you’re not wired the same way.

Before I go off the rails completely and forget what I’m supposed to be writing about, I need to be completely somewhat honest. I’ve known MCQUEEN, the artist whose album I'm reviewing, for many years. Not consecutively because I lost track of time and myself for many moons, but certainly when he was a gangly, awkward kid living in the far reaches of western Massachusetts. I think he was still in high school, but I’m not sure if I knew that. Maybe I did. Someone must have.

The story goes that my band was playing at the old Berkshire Public Theater building (now home to the award-winning Barrington Stage Company), or something was happening there-in any case, we were there, and were introduced to this young cat who called himself Jesse, and there was something about him that just fucking shined. It was bubbling right at the surface.

He said he was working on his comedy, so we invited him to come to our gigs and play the set breaks. Somehow, we smuggled him into a few bars, and he would eat the crowds alive. It was a new concept. No other bands had live set break entertainment, let alone a snappy ass teenager with a quick wit and devilish smile. (As far as I know, it’s never been done again. That’s how cutting edge we were. We cut the edge right off!)

So life goes on and on, and more than a decade.5 later I hunt this kid down to see how he’s doing. Come to find out he’s doing pretty fucking well, touring the country and parts of the world, working with Comedy Central, and developing his own unique style of delivering his art.

It will challenge your perception of what a stand-up comedian is, as he prefers to perform in the shadows, giving his vocal technique, the words themselves, and a screen full of madcap animation the center stage. But I’ve overshot my mark by a million words at this point. Let me get to the meat of the matter, namely MCQUEEN’s new album, Black Cat.

Black Cat is the title track and atmospheric introduction to 33 minutes of the clever and concise musical, comical, satirical, magical madness of this multi-talented performance artist/comedian. This lovely minimalistic opening, which has a nice Pink Floyd and Bowie feel, belies what is to come.

It’s a set up he allows to linger for a few bars of the next track, Fever Dream. Just enough to let the listener think they know what’s going on. Then the levy breaks, and you think you're ready, but are you ever really ready for the line, “Getting your ass licked by a giraffe…”? It catches me off guard every single time!  After that, all bets are off, and it's a lyrical onslaught of manic manipulation. Spit over a well crafted, toe tapping rhythm, replete with chunky guitars, sequencers, synths and plenty of reverb, Fever Dream captures the theme of the first track, modifies it, then passes it to the next, and so on and so forth until the listener is fully enveloped in McQueen's vision.

I enjoy each and every one of the 14 tracks and appreciate the way the spoken word pieces blend seamlessly with the music. Beastie Boys meet De La Soul meet Robin Williams meets Bugs Bunny.

Yes, I do sing the chorus of Fuck You Like a Ghost around the house.

The following tack, No Way Home, by the way, will leave you curled up in a ball and sobbing, or rolling on the floor laughing.

And hell yes please with sugar on the top do I want to cover his haunting and remarkably tender, Whale Song.  A mellow, mostly acoustic guitar number with a gorgeous melody, sweet lyrics, and an easily relatable and catchy hook: “I can swim for miles and miles, and I can swim for miles and miles, I can swim for miles and miles…” It’s an epic pop love song…to a whale. You will sing along!

This is what I find most compelling about MCQUEEN’s humor. The times when I’m not quite certain if he’s speaking or singing in earnest or in jest. Is he poking fun at something, or paying homage to it? Of course I know he’s not really singing a love song to a whale, but I get the feeling that he loves the genre of music he’s parodying. That’s the sense I get from all of his work. He has an admiration for, or at the very least, a fascination for the things he chooses to lampoon.

It’s easy to get lost in the music of Black Cat. It’s that interesting, danceable, and emotive. If you’re one of those people who don’t really follow along to lyrics, you will still love this album for it’s sonic vibe alone. If you are listening to the lyrics, don’t be alarmed when you find yourself laughing and maybe losing your mind just a little.

Young people -anyone younger than me- will be more savvy of references (musical, cultural, etc) and impersonations of movie characters and stars, while old folks -anyone a day or more older than I- will hear enough to feel at home too. It helps to have watched a few movies in the last decade or so.

I bump this in my ride when I’m cruising down the boulevard. Okay, I listen to it in the Altima when I’m running errands around town. But I listen to it and I like it…for the music and the wit and the madness, and MCQUEEN’s ability to blend it all into an inspired, irreverent, and ultimately entertaining, concept album.  It’s a lyrically guided acid-trip through a diverse and interesting musical landscape littered with remnants of our pop-cultural ambiguities.

Black Cat by MCQUEEN. With tight, professional, consistent production by Shane McDicey and Trickie MacKillamonka. This team has delivered an arsenal of aural ammuntion, loaded with well crafted songs, clear and concise instrumentation, infectious rhythms, and sonic clarity.

This gets my highest rating: 5 Spliffs! Soul man says, "Turn It Uppppp!"

Black Cat, 14 tracks. 33 minutes. You won’t know whether to tap your toe, bang your head, get lost in the stories, or laugh at yourself for doing all of the above. Buy it digitally here.

Black Cat. In the words of the man himself, Be safe. Enjoy the ride.”