Chicago's king of camp cool recovers from major head surgery to mess with everyone's brain
How can we not love Bobby Conn when he loves us so much? During “Bus No. 243”, Illinois’ illest man spells his fascination out as he watches the city go by somewhere near Spitalfields. “London smells like a drain, it’s all right/I’m in no pain, in this squalid paradise/Pretty girls, pretty boys with perfect hair/How do they do it on cigarettes and beer.” Exactly.
Whereas past Conn efforts have inhabited a synthetic saturated psychedelic colour box, his new band (still including Hammond organettist Monica Bou Bou, of course) aim for the sky. The saccharine, the glam and glitter remain, but utilising various members of Tortoise and some of Archer Prewitt’s orchestral buddies widens the net.
Conn has always been a Velvet Underground type of pop star, yet he’s equally au fait with the absurdities of mainstream schlock like Billy Joel and Billy Squier (remember “The Stroke”?) so the melodies always linger on, even after the last guest leaves. The anti-Iraq war opener “We Come In Peace”, “Relax” and “Ordinary Violence” are about as apolitical as Bobby wants to get, and he can tell a tale with aplomb. Underneath the fluffy jacket he’s got his sniper’s eye on the target and sees through to the other side of the American TV dream.
If he was just a fragrant laughter track high on Soma, Conn wouldn’t be worth much in the long run. Luckily he’s witty and sharp enough to pull off a throwaway Nilsson-style cut like “My Special Friend” and dig around the dirty side of the love song in “Cashing Objections”. Homeland may not be the full picture of our Special Relationship Friends, but it is a pretty enduring sequence of snapshots.