Duncan Sheik – White Limousine (2006)
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You know, from “Barely Breathing” on down, I’ve never understood what people hear in Duncan Sheik’s music. It’s pleasant enough, in an edgeless, barely-there sort of way, but there are a lot of people who insist Sheik is a great songwriter, one whose music is full of hidden depth and meaning. I keep revisiting his stuff every few years, thinking that whatever I’m supposed to hear will finally reveal itself, and I always come away confused.
Part of the issue is, I guess, Sheik’s singing voice, which — though it’s lovely in a wispy sort of way — is built for convincingly communicating only two emotions. They are:
1. Existential gloom
2. Total adoration
There is absolutely nothing wrong with this. Singers have built virtual media empires out of more limited palettes. And when Sheik sticks to what’s behind Doors Numbered One or Two, he can be pretty entertaining. On the gloomy front, there’s “Barely Breathing,” of course — which, though terribly overplayed, was a pretty good little song; if it’s lovey mush you’re after, it doesn’t get much better than “For You,” off 2002’s Daylight.
But wouldn’t you know it, Sheik has Ambition. His Nick Drake jones was the impetus for 2001’s Phantom Moon. If you’re going to pick an artist to love, you could certainly do worse than Drake; however, where Drake’s songs often conveyed weariness and dread, Sheik just sounds like he might be having sort of a bad day.
For White Limousine — on a couple of songs, anyway — he gets political. As the title track and “Star-Field on Red Lines” make clear, he’s less than enamored of George W. Bush and his wars. What these songs fail to do, though, is generate much heat — they are, like pretty much all of Sheik’s other recordings, nice-smelling puffs of smoke. Actually, you know what? Smoke gets into your clothes. It sticks around. Even after playing White Limousine for two solid days, I can’t say that for any of these songs. To these ears, Duncan Sheik is essentially a reedier, less quirky Stephen Bishop (and all-too-frequently without Bishop’s melodic gift).
But hey, don’t take my word for it. I still think I must be missing something here. Give “Hey Casanova” (download) and “I Don’t Believe in Ghosts” (download) a listen. And I wouldn’t be doing my job if I didn’t tell you that the current pressing of the album comes with a second disc which is supposed to let you make your own versions of these songs. I didn’t play it, so I’m not sure how it works, but it’s an interesting idea (even if Todd Rundgren did it first).