BY RON HART
Ed. note: we are republishing this review, from late 2012, because it not only disappeared in our early ’13 website crash but also in light of the recent announcement of Buck’s forthcoming second solo LP, due in February. Incidentally, the Buck album made our Best Of 2012 list, just in case you were wondering. Rock on.
Peter Buck has always been the quintessence of masculinity within the ranks of R.E.M., sonically speaking. Michael Stipe’s whole “gay best friend” trip brought all the pretty ladies to the party, especially during the Warner Bros. era. But it was Buck’s sinewy Byrds-on-Television guitar mastery which proved to be the clarion call for, well, most of us fellas to say the least, forever transfixed by the tapestry of chords and scales that forever altered the shape of modern rock.
And if you ever wondered what kind of music was playing inside his mind as he rotely mimed enthusiasm in the videos for “Shiny Happy People” and “Imitation of Life”, give the man’s surprise eponymous solo debut a spin.
That is, of course, if you can actually track a copy down for yourself.
Buck could have taken this 14-song LP – cut live to analog tape in four short days with former R.E.M. bandmates Mike Mills, Bill Rifelin, Scott McCaughey and original drummer Bill Berry (as well as guest turns from the likes of Jenny Conley of the Decemberists and Patti Smith Group guitar great Lenny Kaye) – to any label he wished, be it Interscope or In The Red. But he chose to go with one Mississippi Records, a customer-supported micro imprint run out of a vinyl shop in Portland, Oregon, that generally specializes in early American blues and gospel but also commissioned titles from such underground rock icons as Dead Moon and Michael Hurley all the same. And there were only 2000 of these bad boys shipped out, strictly on wax, with no future prospects for a wider release on CD or download at press time. So unless you got Peter Buck the very moment it became available, chances are you might be shit outta luck lest you aim to shell out the 99 clams to purchase one guy’s copy on Amazon (don’t worry about it now though, ‘cuz its gone, daddy, gone).
But for all intents and purposes, this album is well worth the hunt, even if you have to cold call every Mom-n-Pop in the States. Weird, raw and beautiful all at once, swampy Crypt-tastic jams like “It’s Alright”, “Give Me Back My Wig” and “Hard Old World” echo the spirit of a pre-Fab Peter sitting behind the counter at the old Athens, GA mainstay Wuxtry Records fixing to increase his Cramps sales by playing the Gravest Hits EP over the sound system whilst discovering the joys of Loaded-era Velvet Underground and Nancy & Lee during the dead hours from the essence of such lighter fare as “Nothing Matters” and “Some Kind of Velvet Sunday Morning” (a duet with Conley).
And as far as the $20,000 question surrounding the vocal prowess of the man who remained largely mute in the studio during the course of R.E.M.’s 30-odd year run, make no mistake: the man can sing. He’s got this throaty, tuneful growl similar to that of Billy Childish, whose Headcoats indeed proves to be an inspirational point of reference here as well, or so it seems fro the punky choogle of “10 Million BC” and the Document-esque charger “Nothing Means Nothing”, which features a powerhouse lead vocal from Corin Tucker, whose cameo is so kick-ass there should be talk of the two of them doing a whole album in the future as we speak.
Though it is a totally noble gesture on the part of Buck, intent on shaking off the overexcesses of commercial success in the most exclamatory way possible, it would be a shame to see this outstanding LP become merely a short run collector’s curio. Peter Buck is such a historic moment for serious fans of R.E.M. in so many ways, it needs to be heard by more than just 2000 pairs of ears. And hopefully whoever at Mississippi Records reading this review will take heed.
DOWNLOAD: “10 Million BC”, “It’s Alright”, “Nothing Means Nothing”, “I’m Alive” RON HART