Duncan Browne, ‘The Wild Places’ (07/12/79)

From the pushed-up sleeves of his jacket to the strings-and-keyboards lushness of his music, Englishman Duncan Browne is effete, banal, precious, contrived, and arty. If you’re in a receptive mood, though, he can also be quite seductive: The title song of this album is more than catchy: floating off the radio, sneaking up before it registers, it’s like a dream with interesting nightmare edges, and you can easily lose yourself in its wanderings. “The wild places” is a pretty good idea; you play along, focusing on the hard blips of a fretless bass, and see where Browne can take you.

Even the hilariously fey “Ro­man Vecu” (I ask you, what sort of title is that for a rock & roll song?) can get under your skin, if you happen to be feeling especially passive. The music is so lulling and remote you simply don’t hear lines like “But who knows which of us will be the last to remember/That you don’t live in Paris/You don’t live in Paris anymore?,” lines that are surely so far beyond parody as to exist in an alternate universe.

This is not to say that The Wild Places is a trite schlock-perverse masterpiece, as Browne’s first record, the more-than-ten-year-old Give Me Take Me* remains to this day. To call Browne’s Aubrey Beardsley variations on Donovan themes lightweight would have been to belabor the point, but somehow this earlier LP was insinuating, odd, spooky: John Smothers, who reviewed it in these page, called it “a beautiful corpse,” and he was right on the mark.

Browne might have won himself a more honorable place in pop history if he’d emulated Smothers’ metaphor, or anyway disappeared: The Wild Places doesn’t suggest such intense, decadent pointlessness. “Camino Real” is a rather long waste of time, “Samurai” and “Kisarazu” are unhearable (as op­posed to unlistenable) and “The Crash,” so pretentiously titled, is merely bouncy when it wants to be wistful. There isn’t a really irritating moment on the album, but that’s mainly because Browne never dares to come on strong.

Still, Duncan Browne is one singer I never expected to hear from again, and somehow having Give Me Take Me sit on my shelves for a decade as hundreds of other LPs have come and gone seems justified every time I hear “The Wild Places.” The new record won’t be keeping the old one company, but I have hopes for 1989.

* The Duncan Browne LP referred to here is actually titled, Give Me, Take You


Rolling Stone, July 12, 1979

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