Most collaborations between two such strong artistic personalities as Alejandro Escovedo and Chuck Prophet would be doomed from the start, but Real Animal is like adding a turbocharger to a Ferrari V-12. Searing rocker "Always a Friend" burns rubber off the starting line, and Real Animal never looks back. The churning "Chelsea Hotel '78" chronicles when Escovedo lived in the legendary New York dive hotel during punk rock's heyday; the central vignette is Nancy Spungen's stabbing death at the hands of Sex Pistol boyfriend Sid Vicious: "Nancy called up to our room, said 'Come and help with Sid,' we went down and looked around, the dealer let us in." Elsewhere, Escovedo and Prophet celebrate fallen comrade Jeffrey Lee Pierce of Gun Club in "Sister Lost Soul" and bow magnanimously toward Iggy Pop on "Smoke." When the duo isn't powering through snarling rockers like "Real as an Animal," they mine a beautiful counterpoint tension with smoldering, soulful tunes like "Golden Bear" and "People (We're Only Gonna Live So Long)." The brilliant tightrope walk of "Nuns Song" — about Escovedo's earliest punk band in San Francisco — is as unforgettable as the Nuns themselves ("It's 1978, we know we're not in tune, we know we'll never be great"). Now a longtime Austin-area resident, Escovedo has made fine records throughout his career, but stoked by Prophet's energy and guitar creativity and David Bowie producer Tony Visconti at the helm, Real Animal is an easy candidate for most interesting, and perhaps best, rock album of the year.
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