An ominous pulpit
Storied careers are a tricky maze to navigate. On the one hand, you’ll get groups like Guns and Roses, who mortgage and re-mortgage an initial run of incredible success into years of lifelessly touring the hits and occasionally dropping a poorly received album in the process. On the other hand, you have the T-Bone Burnett’s and Scott Walker’s of the world, who take their longevity and lower-key success and turn it into the ability to do whatever the hell they want to do. Burnett is more than content to subvert his Americana roots in exchange for something far more sinister with THE INVISIBLE LIGHT: ACOUSTIC SPACE.
At first blush, it’s clear that this record isn’t the same roots rock or Americana we’ve come to expect from Burnett. The delivery of the lyrics is spoken calmly and cooly, with a hint of menace and aggression dripping through his light rasp. On the opener “High John” the drums take on a tribal tone, driving and consistent, while the background instruments slowly gather more and more forward, creating a tense, inescapable atmosphere of unease and fear. This tension continues into “A Man Without a Country” though this song adds a layer of personal intrigue, with Burnett repeating “I’ve always been a man without a country/ I’ve always been a citizen of heaven/ and now because the world is blue/ I’ve only love to give to you.” As the track progresses it seems as though he is assuming the persona of an angel or a god, lamenting the lack of progress the earth has seen over a bowel-shaking track of strange samples and pounding drums in open space.
Political commentary seeps into the later tracks, particularly “Anti Cyclone” which seems to be directly about Donald Trump with lyrics like “If you tell people what they already believe/ they will believe you/ It doesn’t matter if you don’t mean a word you say/ And it doesn’t matter if what they believe is true/ or have extreme views/ to the thieves who can speak out both sides of their mouths this is but child’s play.” It goes on to make reference to once successful towns that have fallen into despondency, commenting that their dreams are being held for ransom. It’s a surprisingly complex socio-political issue to dive into over a single song but Burnett pulls it off with an impressively deft hand.
By and large this record is a rousing success. Certain moments come across a little flat, such as the long silent break at the end of “A Man Without a Country” and the vocal delivery can occasionally grow dull but the lyrics keep it exciting through more than a few listens. This is the storied career everyone should strive for, and after more than forty years of making music on a major scale, Burnett has brought us an album that still teems with vibrancy.