BY MICHAEL TOLAND
Here’s one resurrection no one saw coming. Two decades after shuttering the band and almost that long since his most recent solo album, singer/songwriter Simon Bonney brings his much-loved cult band Crime & the City Solution back from the grave. Boasting an impressive lineup that includes original members Alexander Hacke (guitar) and Bronwyn Adams (violin) and new guys David Eugene Edwards (16 Horsepower, Woven Hand), Matthew Smith (Outrageous Cherry, the Volbeats), Jim White (the Dirty Three), Troy Gregory (the Witches, Prong) and visual artist (and Hacke spouse) Danielle di Picciotto, Bonney whisks Crime into the new millennium with not only a tour and a best-of, but also American Twilight, a brand new studio LP.
The original, London version of Crime specialized in noise-ridden postpunk, while the subsequent Berlin-based incarnation toned down (but didn’t eliminate) the dissonance in favor of gothic, ambitious art rock – all of which earned Crime not-entirely-unfair comparisons to Bonney’s countrymen Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds. The singer’s subsequent solo career featured his personalized version of what’s now called Americana, garnering critical acclaim but little else. The current version of Crime, based out of Bonney’s adopted home of Detroit, incorporates elements of all his prior visions, adding new wrinkles to keep Crime evolving. Distorted shards of guitar serve as punctuation, even backdrops, rather than drivers, letting keyboards and violin provide the textures in which Bonney immerses his still-potent vocals. The band creates a simmering atmosphere of impending explosion that’s both beautiful and foreboding, like watch rainclouds gather at twilight, lightning occasionally streaking across the sky.
While Crime has always been able to conjure a hypnotic sonic spell, it’s sometimes suffered from a penchant for sound over songs. Not here, though – American Twilight contains the most consistently cogent songwriting of the band’s career. Writhing with melody, the alternately celebratory and uneasy “Goddess” and the declarative “My Love Takes Me There” open the album with twin blasts of accessibility, suitable for triple-A airplay without compromising the band’s essential spirit. After those eye-openers, Bonney brings an expatriate’s eye to social commentary on the darkly wafting “Riven Man” and the droning rock of the title track. “The Colonel” continues the band’s tradition of disturbing narrative epics, while “Domina” essays Bonney’s ghost town balladry. “Streets of West Memphis” ends the album on an elegiac note, Bonney and Adams asserting “Here comes the rain!” in the face of doom.
That attitude, in fact, informs the entire record. Night may be threatening to fall sooner than anticipated, and chaos may linger on the edge of one’s vision, but love is not dead and hope survives. Bonney’s comfort with life’s dark side comes as much from his belief that justice and heart will prevail as from a sense of quiet optimism. His band responds with music that supports, contrasts and, ultimately, empathizes with his work in such a way as to fully realize his vision. Practically vibrating with the will to realize its ambition, Crime & the City Solution finally produces its masterpiece.
DOWNLOAD: “Goddess,” “ American Twilight,” “The Colonel”