Franz Nicolay – Major General

January 01, 1970


Though he’s best known as the mustachioed (there, I said it)
keyboard player for the Hold Steady, Franz Nicolay has been a New York City
fixture for years, as co-founder of the chamber group Anti-Social Music, leader
of the Balkan-klezmer quartet Guignol, as a sometime-member of the virtually
unclassifiable World/Inferno Friendship Society. And while Major General, Nicolay’s first solo album, isn’t nearly as eclectic
nor freewheeling as that CV might suggest, the influences of Eastern European
folk music and cabaret nicely pepper a collection of tunes that, for the most
part, wouldn’t be out of place on the Hold Steady’s next album.

Nicolay kicks things off with “Jeff Penalty,” a
collaboration with Hold Steady tourmates Demander. A roiling, rocking,
not-quite-tribute to the singer who stepped for Jello Biafra in the
post-lawsuit Dead Kennedys, the song offers an astute analysis of the nuances
of punk purism and the performer-audience relationship: “There were wisecracks
in the upper deck from people in the scene but it sure looked like we all still
wanted to believe.”

He explores that relationship further in “Confessions of an
Ineffective Casanova,” another punk rocker on he which manages to be both
self-flagellating and self-congratulatory as he catalogs his various romantic
fuck-ups, concluding with a very Hold Steady-esque commentary on the freeing
power of performance, “I do like people, I want them to know that…but I can
only say that from behind a microphone.”

These and the other rock tunes on the album, particularly
“This World is an Open Door,” are positively exhilarating, made moreso by
Nicolay’s commanding tenor; who’da thunk that all these years, his voice has
been his secret weapon? The Brechtian “Dead Sailors” and the Django Reinhardt
-esque “Do We Not Live in Dreams?” offer bittersweet counterpoint to the louder
fare, but Nicolay can deliver a rock anthem with the best of ‘em.

Standout Tracks: “Jeff
Penalty,” “This World is an Open Door” ERIC SCHUMACHER-RASMUSSEN

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