Jon Langford & Skull Orchard – Old Devils (Music Review)

Old Devils cover

Jon Langford & Skull Orchard - Old Devils

What the hell is Jon Langford thinking? Admittedly, that’s a question I’ve asked myself before. Usually, though, it’s because his latest experiment didn’t work out right. His effort Old Devils, with a band called Skull Orchard, just sticks safely to the aging-rock-star-makes-mature-songs formula. The last time I reviewed an album of his, I gave it a C- for its poor performances of very good songs. This one, with its competent, nearly enjoyable renditions of mediocre songs, earns the same grade for the exact opposite reasons. This isn’t the Jon Langford I’m used to.

Lyrically, the songs are pretty standard fare. “Book of Your Life” is that “I wish I could be more important to you” song that everyone writes at least once, and “Luxury” portrays the expected old rock star’s concern for our materialistic world. Admittedly, the lyrics remain more oblique than we would expect from most people who go the Phil Collins route, though they rarely hide anything too useful below the surface. (Sample lines from “Luxury”: “I’d do anything to please her/ So I bought that brand new freezer/ And I climbed inside”.) Langford almost seems to be inviting the comparison to washed up performers on songs such as “Getting Used To Uselessness” and “Self Portrait” (a dismissive look back on the life of someone much like Langford).

If you’re looking for standout tracks, “1234 Ever” is a fairly catchy opener. “Pieces of the Past” has the most interesting lyrics on the album, looking at the way our history becomes safe and sanitized even as its evils are perpetuated, but you’ll need to overlook a scenery-chewing voiceover and a slightly stilted delivery from Langford in order to appreciate it. And “Strange Ways to Win Wars” works because it communicates its pacifist message in simple, clean terms that seem a lot less self-important than the typical political song.

Throughout the album, Skull Orchard supports Langford with strong, though not showy, arrangements. I don’t think this album is going to leave anyone excited about the band, but it does seem that they have the skill to help any song reach its full potential. As a backing band that leaves the spotlight on the singer-songwriter, though, they don’t have any tricks that can raise these particular songs above their current level.

Grade: C-

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