Snappily titled third from Florida's perennial square peg
A yankee-blooded outcast in the Bible-thumping enclave of his adopted Pensecola, White has unwittingly spent his entire life foraging on the wrong side of the tracks. An itinerant childhood?fetching up in the heart of America’s Christian Fundamentalist movement?brought alienation, nervous breakdown and teenage junkiedom, while the church spat him out like snake poison.
If 1997’s startling Wrong-Eyed Jesus debut was the sound of a man hopelessly adrift in the world, 2001’s magnificent No Such Place?all creepy gothic wipe-out with slithered beats?represented some kind of closure, staring down his ghosts while eyeing up a hopeful future. Drill A Hole… finds White happier, wised-up and more reflective, like eavesdropping on Scrooge the morning after. Still fascinated and repelled by the Southern culture that engulfs him, it’s a meditative rebirth of sorts, exemplified by “Combing My Hair In A Brand New Style” (“Gonna comb out love/Gonna comb out hate/Gonna get me a new look/And I can’t wait”) and “Objects In Motion”, a dreamlike rumination on the futility of clinging to emotional baggage.
Musically, it’s problematic. For those in thrall to the spikier side of White’s ouevre, there’s nothing as visceral as, for instance, “Handcuffed To A Fence In Mississippi” or “God Was Drunk When He Made Me”. Gently trembling with funky guitar, horns, piano, sax, picked acoustic and the faintest whiff of steel, the sound is richer, quasiorchestral and layered. All pancakes of gauze with an easy kickback?at its sweetest on the Aimee Mann-duetting opener, “Static On The Radio”?it takes some listening before these songs unravel. White himself is understated, a hot whisper in the ear rather than a cattle-prod in the groin. “Borrowed Wings” (with Oh Susannah, Barenaked Ladies and The Sadies on board) is wonderful, like a breath of scented wind, while “Alabama Chrome” blossoms from slight guitar strum and harmonica into fat, gospelly chorus via a burst of bluegrass static. Balmy closer “Phone Booth In Heaven”, backed by Mary Gauthier, is a break-up ballad of delicate, densely atmospheric proportions. With its smoothing of rough edges, it’s likely this record will split opinion, but there’s much to admire for those?like its creator?willing to burrow.