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Chris IsaakChris Isaak
Album: First Comes The Night
Label: Rhino
Tracks: 17

Probably still best known for 1989 hit "Wicked Game" and, to a lesser extent, 1995's 'Baby Did A Bad Bad Thing', you can understand why Isaak has, on occasion, looked to escape from his retro pigeonhole, leaving behind Sun-era sounds and chancing his luck with more contemporary, rockier and, on 'Mr Lucky', even funky material. However, the fact remains that he's at his best and most successful when he revives twangsome 50s and 60s rockabilly and country croon. Which he's exactly what he's doing here on his 12th studio album.

An unavoidable comparison that's always trotted out is Roy Orbison. Indeed, Isaak's soaring sounds uncannily like the Big O, the uptempo "Perfect Lover" being a case in point here. However, given the song's Tex-Mex flavour, he could equally be said to sound exactly like Raoul Malo, another Orbisonalike. Indeed, both it and "Don't Break My Heart" could go toe to mariachi toe with the Mavericks. This is an observation rather than a criticism (as well as indicating a useful crossover between fans) and, while you'll hear those Orbison crooning ballad echoes on the title track and "Some Days Are Harder Than The Rest", one of five bonus tracks on the deluxe edition, or the rock n rolling ghost of Presley (and another regular reference) on "Love The Way You Kiss Me", this remains still very much a distinctively Isaak album.

He's always had a slightly subversive streak (hence David Lynch using his music in "Blue Velvet" and casting him in "Twin Peaks"), and that's evident here, both on the sexual suggestiveness of the swaggery 'Dry Your Eyes' where he sings "Last night you called his name. You did it before when you came" and the doo wopping rockabilly "Down In Flames" with its references to Kennedy getting it in a Lincoln and Hank Williams dying in his Cadillac spiking a playful song about hard living your way to hell.

He also embraces a range of retro country bases, "Running Down The Road" all Jerry Lee pumping, "Insects" good old southern rocking with a driving beat and boogie piano, the echoey "Keep Hanging On" channelling Ernest Tubb, and "Baby What You Want Me To Do" all moody Hispanic jazzy swing with pizzicato strings, snare, twanged guitar, and female backing vocals. And then there's honky tonk waltzer "The Way Things Really Are" or the more shuffling "Every Night I Miss You More", both of which you could imagine being slowed down and sung by Jim Reeves. Then, just for a touch of self-referencing, "Kiss Me Like Stranger" adopts a sultry vibrato mood not far removed from "Wicked Game".

At the end of the day, it's staple fare, not pushing any envelopes or reinventing his own wheel, and, while there may be no classics here they'll still be playing in 20 years, it gives the fans exactly what they want and expect. And, that seems good enough for me.

Mike Davies