Pioneering power-pop poobah Peter Case (Nerves, Plimsouls) mutated into a folkie troubadour with his 1986 self-titled solo debut, an album, if I recall the liner notes correctly, filled with what he termed songs of "sin and salvation." A transcendent little revelation, it brimmed with Case's disarming story-songs about these United States, his passionate playing and singing, and considered production from T-Bone Burnett and Mitchell Froom. But with each successive album since then (excluding last year's fine almost-all-covers-of-traditional-songs romp, Sings Like Hell), Case's pop savvy slowly has eroded in favor of a certain literary pretension, his energies more concentrated on the creation of the story than the telling of the song.
On Torn Again, it becomes abundantly apparent that while Case remains an engaging tunesmith (especially on the gangly slide-guitar rocker "Takin' It"), his literary reach almost always exceeds his grasp. Accordingly he strains for poignancy on "Blind Luck," "Wilderness," and "Punch & Socko," but merely achieves cliches. And while he occasionally salvages some songs (in part) with infectious choruses sung in his likably gruff voice ("Airplane," "Turnin' Blue"), so many others here shortchange the music for a blunt stab at the pop-song equivalent of a Raymond Carver story. Rock and pop conventions demand concision, something Case seemed to understand innately in his power-pop past ("Million Miles Away," "This Town," "Now," "Zero Hour," "How Long Will It Take?") but has forgotten in his singer-songwriter present.
By Michael Yockel
Avant-garde Muzak? There must be a market for this elegant gunk, most likely on the far side of the River Styx. On the plus side: No duets with Tony Bennett.