Published on October 3rd, 1996 | by Gerry Galipault0
Graham Parker: No more Mr. Nice Guy
Look out, G.P. is on the loose again.
With last year’s “12 Haunted Episodes” behind him, Graham Parker has gotten the wispy, acoustic touch out of his system. His new Razor & Tie album, “Acid Bubblegum” (released Oct. 1), welcomes back the G.P. we know and love: You know, the one capable of eloquent, deeply twisted tirades.
“I thought this record should be diametrically opposed to my last album,” Parker said recently from his home in Woodstock, N.Y. ” ’12 Haunted Episodes’ was very acoustic, basically a ‘Blood on the Tracks’ and ‘Astral Weeks’ kind of album, unashamedly. That was the area I was going for with that record.
“I thought this one should be more pissed off. I thought it was time for that again; I felt in that mood. That was the kind of songs I was writing, and it became apparent that I should sequence it in a way that people get the general drift, that G.P.’s back and he’s pissed.”
Few escape Parker’s wrath among the 13 tracks, from the Gulf War blast “Turn It Into Hate” to “Obsessed With Aretha,” in which he skewers R&B wannabes. Then there’s the intensely personal rumination, “Sharpening Axes,” declaring “I’m not selling molasses, I’m not pushin’ tea/ I don’t appeal to the masses, and they don’t appeal to me.”
“Lyrics should be fun, fun in whatever direction you’re taking,” Parker said, “whether it’s the pastoral, bucolic ’12 Haunted Episodes’ thing or ‘Impenetrable’ (off the new album), which is nightmarish. It’s almost classic rock. It’s Zeppelinish or something, I don’t know. There’s something about it, it’s heavier than anything I’ve done for a long while.”
“Get Over It and Move On” also is vintage Parker, latching on to a hook and reeling in listeners with typically vivid imagery.
“Again, it’s lyrical games,” he said. “That’s another nightmarish lyric. I think I woke up from a particularly twisted dream, something about a girl with an umbrella breaking my legs.
“It’s like word association and scene association. In a way it’s a bit like the song from ‘The Mona Lisa’s Sister,’ ‘Get Started, Start a Fire,’ where there’s a lot of imagery about something that makes sense internally and it’s followed by a punchline, a chorus.”
There’s no magical way of writing songs, Parker said. He just sits and lets it fly off his pen.
“Most of the stuff is junk, it’s too literal or too ordinary or mundane,” he said. “Then I get into other areas of thought, which are not so normal areas of thought, and that’s where I get my best lyrics from.
“It’s sort of like an out-of-body experience, where words are coming and ideas are coming. It’s a period of flowing, and in that period, about two months, that’s where I write a whole album.”
“Acid Bubblegum” came to him quickly, especially in the studio.
“Nearly always I try to get the track down in the first or second take,” he said. “This album was no exception. I cut 14 songs, as a matter of fact, complete with overdubs and everything in 13 days. I was tear-assing around with the coffee machine in the studio. I was literally sprinting to get it done and keep it hot and not let anything get stale at all.
“Most of the tracks were first takes, and that’s the way I like to work. Beyond that, you really start to lose perspective. They lose their immediacy. If something grooves and there’s no major mishaps and the drummer looks happy, that’s usually my cue.”
Parker’s biting reversion comes at the right time: On Oct. 1, Arista reissued his landmark “Squeezing Out Sparks” and packaged it with “Live Sparks” on one disc, and last month the New Jersey-based indie Buy or Die released the tribute album “Piss & Vinegar: The Songs of Graham Parker,” featuring cover versions by the Smithereens’ Pat DiNizio, The Figgs and Frank Black, among others.
“I think these labels have departments that specialize in ‘Okay, let’s go down from A to Z,’ and when they get to the P section, Parker pops up and ‘Okay, let’s repackage Parker,’ ” he said. “Fortunately, I’ve been dealing with individual people (at Arista) who care about the record. They’re into it. The great financial machine, though, doesn’t give a damn.”
BWF (before we forget): The Parker album discography – “Howlin’ Wind” (Mercury, 1976); “Heat Treatment” (1976); “The Pink Parker EP” (1977); “Stick to Me” (1977); “The Parkerilla” (1978); “Squeezing Out Sparks” (Arista, 1979); “The Up Escalator” (1980); “Another Grey Area” (1982); “The Real Macaw” (1983); “Steady Nerves” (Elektra, 1985); “The Mona Lisa’s Sister” (RCA, 1988); “Live! Alone in America” (1989); “Human Soul” (1990); “Struck By Lightning” (1991); “Burning Questions” (Capitol, 1992); “Graham Parker’s Christmas Cracker” (Dakota Arts, 1994); “12 Haunted Episodes” (Razor & Tie, 1995); “GP & The Episodes, Live From New York, NY” (Classic Compact Discs/Razor & Tie, 1996); “Acid Bubblegum” (Razor & Tie, 1996); “The Last Rock ‘N’ Roll Tour,” two-disc live set, Graham Parker & The Figgs (1997).