Joe Pernice is another one of those exquisitely talented individuals who deserve to be awash in fame and fortune and is more or less a cult artist with a small but fervent following. Pernice began in the early ’90s in a Northampton, Mass., Rock band called The Scuds, which morphed into the Scud Mountain Boys, a Folk/Rock reflection of the original band that grew out of the Scuds’ post-gig acoustic kitchen jams. Pernice still felt slightly constrained creatively and he left the Scud Mountain Boys after their debut album to pursue a Pop direction with his side project, Pernice Brothers.
The first Pernice Brothers album, 1998’s Overcome by Happiness, was a triumph of melancholy baroque Pop, featuring Pernice’s take on influences as varied as Jimmy Webb, The Bee Gees and Sammy Davis Jr. While it made most critics’ year-end best-of lists, it ultimately achieved only minor commercial success.
That pattern has played out with Pernice’s subsequent releases, as well. He’s continued with the Pernice Brothers over the past dozen years, put out a handful of solo releases under his own name (the first, 2000’s Big Tobacco, had no artist identification at all) and done an even more melancholy one-off under the banner Chappaquidick Skyline. But perhaps the most significant development in Pernice’s career was assembling his own studio and starting his own record label nine years ago, events that allowed him to call his own creative shots.
Pernice is clearly at the height of his powers on Goodbye, Killer, the sixth Pernice Brothers album. The four-year gap since 2006’s Live a Little was not idle time for Pernice, who published his debut novel, It Feels So Good When I Stop, wrote and recorded a soundtrack to the book and toured to support all of it. As a result, Goodbye, Killer was written and recorded relatively quickly, which is evidenced by the album’s brevity and immediacy. Don’t mistake that for a criticism — Pernice is an absolute master editor and knows that a 10-song, 32-minute CD that bristles with energy and passion from start to finish beats a 15-song, 50-minute album padded with unnecessary rest stops.
“Bechamel” plays like a tribute to John Hiatt, albeit with Pernice’s hyperliterate lyrical twists and turns and baroque-Pop-meets-Indie-Rock pace, while “Jacqueline Susann” bounces along like a Smithereens outtake and “We Love the Stage” is a lilting little Pop vaudeville homage to Van Dyke Parks and Loudon Wainwright III. Pernice’s avowed Bee Gees jones comes to the surface on “The Loving Kind,” stripped of any pedantic romanticism and rife with his patented honesty and lyrical brilliance. The title track could be a lost Faces nugget about a lost friend and “Fucking and Flowers” sounds like a summit meeting between Elvis Costello, Scott Miller and Matthew Sweet.
Goodbye, Killer is a wide-ranging and completely satisfying album, a brilliantly stripped back set that’s certainly not a philosophical departure from anything in Joe Pernice’s increasingly great body of work.