Chain and the Gang’s Ian Svenonius has never found himself at a loss for words. The former “sassiest boy in America” and auteur of the Nation of Ulysses, the Makeup, and the Scene Creamers/Weird War has built a 20-year career by mixing pseudo-academic theory, hipster babble, tight pants, and an amazing head of hair into an engaging, super-cool persona. And Svenonius is one of the most charismatic frontmen in rock.
Although there is a new back-up band here, Down With Liberty… Up With Chains! is essentially more of the same from Svenonius. The album shifts gears from Weird War’s twisted psychedelia to a boho version of jailhouse blues. But the songs are, as usual, merely platforms for Svenonius to wax poetic about consumerist culture, conspiracy plots, and whatever wacko jive suits his fancy for the moment. And this is not a bad thing.
The problem isn’t the songs themselves, but the way they’re delivered. It seems that whoever happened to be walking down the street outside of the Olympia, Wash., studio where this was recorded was recruited as a band member. The resulting claptrap amalgamation of sounds is perpetually on the verge of falling apart, and not in an endearingly shambolic way, either. Having a skilled drummer is an utter necessity, for chrissake.
The album has its charms, but doesn’t feel like a finished product. There’s probably some kind of long-winded explanation for this mess that’s rich with $10 words and doesn’t make much sense. But this is still the weakest thing he’s ever done.