Cotton Mather: Death Of The Cool
Austin power-pop legends return with their first album in more than a decade. Louder Than War’s Craig Chaligne reviews.
Almost 20 years after they released their masterpiece “KonTiki”, Cotton Mather are back with a new record full of catchy tunes and hooks. The album is part of an herculean project of 64 songs based on each of the I Ching’s 64 hexagrams (The I Ching, or Classic of Changes, is an ancient divination text and the oldest of the Chinese classics). These recordings will feature songs by all of Robert Harrison’s projects (including his other band Future Clouds And Radar). In spite of a rather prog-rockish concept that could have led long term Cotton Mather devotees to think there band had turned into Yes or ELP, the sound is classic power-pop in the mould of their earlier releases.
The first song “The Book of Too Late Changes” shows that Harrison still has the knack to write a tune that can channel “Substitute”- era Who, an opener that lives up to “Camp Hill Operator” on “KonTiki” and “Last Of The Mohicans” on “The Big Picture”. The reviewer remembers endless debate on an internet forum 15 years ago on the respective qualities of Cotton Mather and Teenage Fanclub, the general consensus emerging that the American’s songwriting and arrangements were generally a bit more diverse than there English counterparts (even it stays in firmly established pop paradigms). The record sounds slightly more polished than its two predecessors (their 1994 debut “Cotton Is King” must be treated separately as it sonically very different from all their other releases).
“Kon Tiki”‘s absolutely perfect collage of lo-fi recordings and overdubs is a one off never to be repeated but “Death Of Cool” is a pleasant album that sees Harrison gently squeeze in some Future Clouds and Radar into Cotton Mather on a couple of numbers (“Life of the Liar”, “Waters Raging”). The master of the ballad strikes again on “The Middle of Nowhere” and “The End Of Dewitt Finley”, while a heavy Kinks influence is on display on the bouncy “Child Bride” (with its harpsichord part “a la” “Session Man”). The only qualm could be that Whit Williams’s guitars skills are used with parsimony, giving the feel that the album is more a Robert Harrison solo album rather than a completely new Cotton Mather LP. Nevertheless, this a small quibble in what’s surely one of the great comebacks of 2016.