Keith Morris & the Crooked Numbers – Psychopaths & Sycophants
Keith Morris and the Crooked Numbers is going to end up making a lot of year’s end lists and couldn’t be more timely. Morris’ initial inspiration for the album arose from the juxtaposition of songwriting Leonard Cohen dying a day before Donald Trump’s victory in the United States Presidential election and the resulting anger from watching a disaster evolve into an outright fiasco with numerous low points along the way. Despite the political agitation fueling much of the songwriting on Psychopaths & Sycophants, there’s never any sense of being browbeaten into a particular point of view – instead, this is an intensely personal, yet topical, release that will end up surviving more as a work chronicling a writer’s response to his times rather than some manifesto set to song. It’s a powerful reminder of the weight a committed artist’s voice can still carry in these strange times.
He begins and ends the album with Leonard Cohen songs. “The Future”, the title cut from an early nineties Cohen album, opens Psychopaths & Sycophants with an ever-timely declaration of personal unease, an appraisal of the world as a near post-apocalyptic hellscape where gentleness is long since crushed. The romping musical performance is accented with some colorful flashes of organ and Morris affects a vocal style closer to Bob Dylan than Leonard Cohen while maintaining a strong fidelity to the original, down to the backing singers in the chorus. There’s a luxurious, expansive feel powering “What Happened to Your Party?” marrying a quasi-Pink Floydian roll with Morris’ largely spoken, yet dramatically rendered, vocals. The accompaniment from the Crooked Numbers is quite effective, especially the drumming and slide guitar laced through the track. The title song is an even more stylish number, sleek and jazzy without ever becoming inaccessible, and adorned with some exceptional backing vocals that never overplay their hand. The addition of brass and light organ to the song is key, but the piano playing really makes the song come alive.
We’re back to a more traditional rock setting for the languid, slightly melancholy march of “Canebrake”. There’s a mix of well recorded drums, acoustic and electric guitar, organ, and vocals weaving together in quite a haunting way and the lyrics underscore the mood with their suggestive poetry. The raw, unbridled rocker “67%” is definitely one of the more topical tunes on the album and kicks off with a blast of Neil Young and Crazy Horse-like guitar raucousness before settling into a simmering groove for the verses. Starting the song off with a count-in is a nice touch. The second to last song on the album is a muted turn with “The Narcissist” and it has a nice folk song gait, simple straight-forward drumming accompanied by swells from keyboard and organ while the guitar thoughtfully strums. He adds some female backing vocals for a bit of sweetness, but the crowning melodic touch comes from the inclusion of ghostly steel guitar whining from deep within the mix. The elegiac swing of the album’s final track “In My Secret Life” ends Psychopaths and Sycophants as it began – with a Leonard Cohen cover – and on a decidedly personal note. It is considered and respectful while Morris still proves himself capable of giving the song his own unique slant. This album is one of 2018’s most satisfying musical statements.