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Chuck Cleaver Gets Wonderfully Expressive On His First Solo Album

Sep 3, 2019
Originally published on September 4, 2019 2:31 pm
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TERRY GROSS, HOST:

This is FRESH AIR. Rock critic Ken Tucker has a review of "Send Aid," the first solo album by Chuck Cleaver, one of the leaders of Wussy, the critically-acclaimed cult rock band from Cincinnati. Cleaver has described "Send Aid" as 10 songs about joy, pain, sorrow, regret, fascination, wonder, et cetera. Ken says it can stand with the best of anything else Cleaver has done.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ANYTHING")

CHUCK CLEAVER: (Singing) It was a perfect afternoon, but it wasn't meant to last. Although it started bold and bright, the colors were fading fast. It's impossible, it seems, to not romanticize the past, but I would do anything. I would do anything. Was that your bedroom...

KEN TUCKER, BYLINE: As often as not, Chuck Cleaver treats his singing as though it were something that needs to be buried in feedback, double-tracked into a dissonant echo or obscured by backing vocals from keyboardist John Hoffman and longtime bandmate Lisa Walker. Nevertheless, Cleaver's singing on his new solo album "Send Aid" is wonderfully expressive. Listen to the way it emerges from the gleeful, intentional mess of melody that is the song "Terrible Friend."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "TERRIBLE FRIEND")

CLEAVER: (Singing) If it looks like a mountain, it's probably a mountain. If it looks like a hole, then it's probably a hole. If it looks like a mountain, it's probably a mountain. If it looks like a hole, then it's probably a hole. I don't know why you're sitting next to me 'cause I won't be there in the end. Along with all the other things that I will never be, I'm a terrible friend.

TUCKER: Cleaver starts off "Send Aid" with "Terrible Friend" probably because with its vehement stomping, fuzzy vocals and full-throated lyrics, it's the song that most quickly takes you into the sound and mood of this entire collection, which is not called "Send Aid" by accident. In song after song, Cleaver is asking for help, admitting defeat, begging to be forgiven or to be left alone. In the song called "Mess," he's a guy who wants to communicate with someone he loves but who also knows that as soon as he does, he's going to regret it.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MESS")

CLEAVER: (Singing) I write a lot of letters to you, but most of them are in my head. But every now and again, one of them will actually get sent, will actually get sent. But I leave off that goddamn return address because it's what got me into this mess in the first place.

TUCKER: In his main job as a leader of the band Wussy, Chuck Cleaver writes or co-writes much of the band's material alongside Lisa Walker, who also helps out a great deal in the better voice department. Wussy songs can certainly have a rough sound, but in general, they're more elegantly played and produced than the music on Cleaver's solo project. But that doesn't mean I'm enjoying Cleaver's stuff any less. I love the song "Bed" with its lonely guy musing about getting old - Cleaver recently turned 60 - and its line about that lonely guy sitting in a room listening to Patsy Cline sing "I Fall To Pieces."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BED")

CLEAVER: (Singing) It was a blazing summer to be followed by a rainy fall. And after all that came a frozen winter that hasn't yet begun to thaw, that hasn't yet begun to thaw. And as my time decreases, I'm sitting here listening to "I Fall To Pieces." And while the words are winding through my head, I''' think of all the things I should've said. Then I give up and go to bed.

TUCKER: While the lyrics of all these songs are pessimistic whenever they're not despairing, Cleaver sounds like he's having such a good time being downbeat, you end up feeling comforted, warmed, upbeat. It may be that the whole collection can be summarized in one paradox tucked into the song "Flowers & The Devil." The couplet goes like this. I'm so happy that I found you, I can't stand to be around you. Like so much else Chuck Cleaver has to say, who among us has not felt that way about someone we love?

GROSS: Ken Tucker reviewed "Send Aid" by Chuck Cleaver. After we take a short break, Justin Chang will review a new film comedy about the driver of a medical transport van and his passengers. This is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF QUINCY JONES' "MONTY, IS THAT YOU?") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.