Rouse’s last album Under Cold Blue Stars was a concept of sorts, set in ’50s America and based around a fictitious couple and their struggle to come to terms with a fast-changing world and its shifting values. Musically, its rootsy brand of Americana ploughed a similar singer-songwriterly furrow to Rouse’s first two solo albums and Chester, the collaborative record he made with Kurt Wagner.
So in the light of what has gone before, 1972 comes as something of a surprise, if not a total shock, as Rouse goes back to roots of a rather different kind. Taking its cue from the year in which he was born, 1972 embarks on an affectionate 10-track tour around the music of that period. The mood is sunny and upbeat and the world is clearly a child-like place seen through a pair of rose-tinted spectacles. But, hey, he was only eight years old when the decade ended and the harsh reality of the ’80s dawned.
The tone is set by the opening title track, with “It’s Too Late”-style piano chords and a lyric which finds Rouse “grooving to a Carole King tune” on an endless summer afternoon, before it moves into something more gossamer-like with one of those elusively floating melodies of the kind Wagner might have written for the last Lambchop album, Is A Woman. Songs such as “Love Vibration” and “Sunshine” are every bit as retro as their titles suggest?mild but soothing ’70s West Coast pop in the tradition of “Me And You And A Dog Named Boo” and “It Never Rains (In Southern California)”, or perhaps Captain And Tennille, rather than the jangling folk-rock that influenced The Thrills’ equally California-fixated debut album.
“James” is funkier but still mellifluous with a magical bass line, like Ace’s “How Long” meets Bill Withers'”Use Me”. There are other ’70s soul influences, and you can hear Rouse and producer Brad Jones making nods towards Stevie Wonder, the jazz-funk of Herbie Mann, Van McCoy’s “The Hustle” and even Barry White’s Love Unlimited in the arrangements. But it’s still filtered through his inescapable troubadour tendencies so that the soul is essentially of the softest, blue-eyed variety. “Come Back (Light Therapy)”, for example, would have made a perfect follow-up single to Boz Scaggs'”Lowdown”.
It’s hard to think of anyone apart from that other master of pop pastiche, Nick Lowe, who could have made a record quite like this. Yet it’s all done with such obvious love and affection and literate craft, that Rouse has gone and made one of the albums of the year. Even if the year is 1972.