THE CAIRO GANG – Untouchable

Album: Untouchable

Artist: Cairo Gang

Label: Drag City

Release Date: March 24, 2017

The Upshot: Though solid throughout, it suggests the more random approach suits Emmett Kelly and his fans.


In 2015, Emmett Kelly and The Cairo Gang released Goes Missing, an LP spotlighting the songwriter/guitarist’s considerable power pop chops. Some tracks were so spot on (try “Be What You Are”) they read like master classes in the jangly power pop idiom—Big Star and Teenage Fanclub comparisons didn’t seem nearly as strained as they usually do.

There’s nothing quite as earwig-y on this eight-song follow-up, which the publicity calls “a tesseract-like bridging of musical and emotional dimensions.” That’s longhand for saying tracks like “Broken Record,” a mid-tempo march that kicks off the new LP, connects to more British Invasion-inspired goodness—particularly, on this track, the Byrdsian 12-string solo. The title cut is a pleasant Merseybeat strummer with some mellotron on it, while “In the Heart of Her Heart” is a rippin’ two-minute rock ‘n’ roller the Yardbirds might’ve brought to the party.

Kelley’s vocals don’t hurt the British Invasion comparisons, either. He sounds like George Harrison singing with some of Gerry Marsden’s mannerisms on “Real Enough to Believe,” the LP’s best guitar jangle track, and “Let It Gain You,” which blends Syd Barrett-era Floyd verses with a bridge of vintage late ’60s Dead noodling (wisely kept under three minutes). Closer “What Can You Do?” continues the blending trend, sounding like Ian Hunter wrote a song for Badfinger.

That’s a pairing that doesn’t seem so out of place, but that’s not always the case here. The strangest moment on Untouchable has to be the schizophrenic “That’s When It’s Over,” a seven-minute mash-up where the musical “tesseracting” is impossible to miss. The song veers between riffs lifted from two 60s icons whose reputations—certainly in retrospect, at least—could use some detente. The track alludes to the Velvet Underground’s “Sweet Jane” chord progression, and even includes a brief spoken-word bridge a la the Rhino version of Loaded. It nods even more vociferously to the outro on Jimi Hendrix’s version of “Hey, Joe,” including swinging Mitch Mitchell-like drum fills.  Kelley really digs into these latter parts, offering scorching evidence why he’s an in-demand lead guitarist for artists as diverse as Will Oldham and Ty Segall. With repeat listens, the song even makes the odd juxtaposition of reference material recede into the background—though not quite enough to forget them entirely.

Goes Missing was, according to the PR, a pastiche from different sessions in different studios, and put together via “disembodied production” into an “irresistible pop whole.” Untouchable, on the other hand, was a conscious effort to mix shit up. Though solid throughout, without hooks like the best ones on Goes Missing, Untouchable suggests the more random approach suits Kelly and his fans better.

DOWNLOAD:  “Broken Record,” “Real Enough to Believe,” “What Can You Do?”


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