Arthur Buck is one of the most enjoyable albums of the year so far.
Former R.E.M. guitar Peter Buck has always had a taste for collaboration, and that taste has anything but diminished since the group’s dissolution in 2011. His latest outing is with prolific multi-instrumentalist Joseph Arthur, perhaps best known (unfairly) for his album of Lou Reed covers, given the body of work he has amassed over more than 20 years as a singer-songwriter. The two alternative rock icons join forces as the aptly named Arthur Buck.
The result is akin to a harmonious marriage—both Arthur and Buck’s musical personalities find expression on the album and allow themselves to be influenced by the other, without thereby sacrificing what makes them distinctive to begin with.
The overall sound of the album falls squarely in the rock vein, both electric and acoustic, though there are also plenty of electronic elements, including keyboards, drum loops and samples of all sorts (which both artists have used before in other projects). Since Arthur handles the vocals, the album ends up sounding like a Joseph Arthur with especially inspired guitar playing—Buck here sounds as vibrant and versatile as ever, handling different styles with effortless aplomb. Arthur, too, turns in as confident a vocal performance as any he has given, using the gravel he has acquired over the years to soulful, charismatic effect on many of this album’s songs.
“The Wanderer” is a groovy song—again, the absence of traditional rock drumming makes the album more eclectic—that features snarling lead guitar from Buck and a very Bowie-inspired vocal breakdown. Arthur really leans into the vocal, giving the lyrics a prophetic ring: “And though your cup keeps overflowing/ With all the things you never did or always done.”
“If You Wake Up in Time” has an even stronger, almost dance-like, synthesized beat, and multi-tracked vocals punctuated by minimalist, syncopated guitar and bass work. The rhythm of the song belies the regret-tinged lyrics: “You’re wrong/ About everything you wanted.” This is in keeping with the album, which is hooky and melodic, but has a darkness to it if you hone in on what the lyrics are actually saying (though this one has some redemption: “Save your life/ If you wake up in time”).
Elsewhere on the album, one finds acoustic guitars and skittering beats on “Forever Waiting,” a brief and rather ghostly one-minute piano interlude on “Summertime” and pure fun on “American Century,” which finds Arthur and Buck at their loosest and unabashedly poppy, replete with squealing synth line. “Wide Awake in November,” features Arthur using his upper register and one of the album’s prettiest choruses, as well as one of the album’s best lines—“I was asleep when they disabled the golden rule.”
In short, Arthur Buck is one of the most enjoyable albums of the year so far. Even for younger listeners who may not be as familiar with these two luminaries, it is the kind of album any rock fan should be grateful for, the kind of two-headed monster one eagerly welcomes.