Pop Crimes is the second solo album from Rowland S. Howard, who made a name for himself as the innovative guitarist for The Birthday Party throughout the 1980s. Sadly, Howard died of liver cancer in December 2009, and Pop Crimes is an outstanding send off by a truly unique artist.
The album opens with the ethereal and breathtaking (I Know) a Girl Called Jonny, a dark love duet featuring guest vocals from Jonnine Standish, vocalist of HTRK. The song weaves in an almost trippy way; sounding like 60s beat pop, mixed with something more sinister. With brilliantly poetic lyrics like 'she's my narcotic lollipop' the album stuns you into listening from the get-go.
The album carries on in this way with Shut Me Down, another atmospheric and downtrodden ballad. It might not be radio friendly or particularly easy listening but this music has depth not often seen in the mainstream in this day and age. Lyrics like 'I miss you so much/I'm standing in a suit as ragged as my nerves/and I agree what I've become is surely worth the hatred that you spat on me' take on a new poignancy in the tragic context of this album.
Following these gems, the album takes on a looser, almost improvisatory feel with Life's What You Make It and the title track both lasting well over 6 minutes each. The bass lines groove and Howard's trade mark tremolo guitar work pulls you into a sound so dense you could hide in it for months on end. This is the sound of a man who knows he has nothing to lose, and it is almost faultless.
Wayward Man features more jagged guitar tones and bitterly sarcastic lyrics, as does the albums closing song The Golden Age of Bloodshed, an almost country inspired number with a huge chorus, building to a cacophonous conclusion to one of hell of a journey.
Where Pop Crimes is not a heavy album in the traditional Black Sabbath or Metallica sense of the term, it is a twisting, sludgy and grinding affair that might take some getting used to, but once you are inside, it's rewards are limitless. This album carries an emotional weight rarely heard. As the final album from Rowland S. Howard, it really does feel like an epic chapter closing in the best book you ever read. This album takes risks; it has nothing to lose and stands up next to the best albums of this year.