For those who first became familiar with Austinite-by-way-of-Houston Johnny Goudie during his days as a boundaryless, chain-smoking rock-and-roll traditionalist, the opening strains ofPeep Show
are going to take some getting used to. Many layers deep, delicate and fraught with drama, the beginning to a song like "Baby Hello" is hardly the stuff of smoky back rooms.
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Peep Show (The Music Company/Elektra)
Then again, this has been coming for a while. A couple of years back, Goudie found a stable lineup, dropped his first name and reinvented himself as a band. Part of this process was about his becoming less badass and more, well, androgynous. The sensitive side of the person was beginning to peek through in the performer. Lars Ulrich liked what he heard enough to make the band one of the first signings to his Music Company imprint. And now we have Peep Show.
"Baby Hello" eventually turns into a rock song, ending with wailing guitars and crashing cymbals, but the tune marks the starting point of an emotional, voyeuristic journey through the foibles and conflicts of selfish lust and selfless love. "Sugar Daddy," "Tonight" and "Valentine" follow in this same vein, each offering a look into something both seamy and precious. "Valentine," in fact, is one of the only full-on rockers, a combination of musical bombast and glam lyrics.
Peep Show's strongest stretch is its last three songs. "Terminal" pulls off the rare feat of combining a melody of irresistibly toe-tapping happiness with the notion that we're all gonna die, some of us in a fiery plane crash ("The plane touches down without any wheels / Very unscheduled / Bodies are thrown / Litter the field of vision / Consciousness fading / Terminal / So it goes / Everyone terminal"). "Drag City," meanwhile, is a mix of honky-tonk riffing and two-part vocal harmonies in a tale of breaking the shackles, while the closer, "When Will You Be Mine?" handles its question and its performance with such immediacy and beauty and honesty that you'd swear it was a cover (say, of a bluesy Stones ballad). It's not.
By the time you've given Peep Show a third listen, any initial misgivings are gone. If you can make it past the melodrama -- and it gets pretty deep at times, stacked right up there with the likes of Peter Gabriel, Freddie Mercury and Morrissey -- what unfolds is an intricate and thoughtful set of pop rock songs.