There is seemingly ageless comfort in Heyman’s voice.
Veteran cult artist Richard X. Heyman’s music has long run deeper than power pop, and his 11th album, Incognito, is no exception. Yes, there are jangly guitars and insistent rhythms that make you want to dance, and yes, there are gorgeous vocal harmonies that would sound perfect emanating from a transistor radio on the Jersey Shore, but other elements seep in, too. If he has broadly accessible moments, it’s because he isn’t just making music for himself.
“Everybody Get Wise” thrives on Latin-style percussion, soul-driven guitar figures (think Curtis Mayfield) and an impassioned vocal performance that has the ability to make us willing to support whatever cause Heyman wants us to. It may or may not be an explicitly finger-pointing song about the state of the world right now, but one suspects there’s a lot of mileage to get out of this song in stirring up righteous anger about the evil that men do. And yet, to Heyman’s credit, it’s not heavy-handed.
On “A Fool’s Errand,” a hook-laden piece that serves as a textbook example of the power in simplicity, it’s not just the choruses and harmonies that buoy the song with a brightness that’s nearly impossible to avoid. There’s something to be said about the way the artist orchestrates layers of guitars that bounce and bop along with time-honored pop maneuvers that consistently feel like a revelation.
We’ve been hearing the jangly sound that “Gleam” is built upon perhaps since the Everly Brothers and definitely since the British Invasion. Still, one can’t help getting lost in the reverie of it all. It becomes possible to imagine that the music will lift us up and carry us out of our troubles, maybe high above the power pop we hear today. That stuff may often sound terrific, but it lacks the expression one hears in the Nuggets-style stomp of “Her Garden Path” or the garage-turned-soul of “Terry Two Timer.”
That title is based in part on the idea that rock ‘n’ roll is music that can be made by virtually anyone capable of keeping a steady beat and hanging onto a D chord long enough to change to G when the time comes. That’s the fun of the early rock Heyman came up playing in the Doughboys and maybe the reason that Cheap Trick continues to attract newcomers, generation after generation. You know heart and soul when you hear it, and a record such as this has it in spades.
Though it’s not always heavy with ideas, it’s not dumb rock by any stretch. In addition to “Everybody Get Wise,” Heyman proves he’s a man with a conscience who also believes that music can elevate the consciousness of the masses via “These Troubled Times” and “In Our Best Interest.” The latter can be read simply as a love song, but it also reminds us that sometimes the love between two people can be enough to inspire a broader kind of affection and maybe even a better, wider understanding of humanity. On the other hand, Incognito doesn’t dwell in the intensely intellectual either, and most often it doesn’t require anything more complicated than enjoying the easy beats and tasty licks, the soaring choruses and seemingly ageless comfort in Heyman’s voice. Enjoy this for the sake of the music itself, it’s occasionally more poignant powers are simply a bonus.