Speak of the Devil by Chris Isaak (Review)

The album is full of songs about distant relationships and lost loved ones.
Speak of the Devil - Chris Isaak

In the spirit of the Valentine’s Day season (Editor’s Note: yes, I know Valentine’s Day has passed; better late than never), I felt it was necessary to review the man who looks like Elvis and sings like Roy Orbison. There is probably no other mixture that says, when spoken sensually, “Happy Valentine’s Day baby, now let’s get it on.” (Editor’s Note: He forgot to mention Barry White and Al Green.)

Ironically, I’ve found that most of Isaak’s albums are chock full of depressing love songs, which is fine if your Valentine’s Day happens to be just another painful reminder of the fact that you are screwed up over some girl. Amen. On the other hand, if you are fortunate, Chris has recorded Speak of the Devil, which contains a more “head over heels” feel to it. I’ve never been truly convinced that his problems with women could be nearly as bad as mine. Face it, the man is not homely and his voice doesn’t suck either.

“Flying” is a surfy love song about a new interest that leaves butterflies in the stomach and is sure to create a mood — whether you’re on a bearskin rug near the fire, or just eating dinner by candlelight. There is plenty of reverb on the guitars and a smooth brushstroke on the snare, all of which aid in imagining an evening’s walk on the beach (or river if you’re stuck in the Midwest) as Isaak’s voice produces a Blue Hawaiian sound. The next song, “Walk Slow,” finds Isaak in his usual predicament of the female leaving, but it sounds romantic at any rate as he sings of his love for her. The song is reminiscent of the “Baja Sessions” with the poppier feel of “Two Hearts” and “Back On Your Side.”

Actually, I was wrong. The album is full of songs about distant relationships and lost loved ones, but ignoring the lyrics will still give you slow songs full of Isaak’s voice — that alone is sure to give the night a lovey-dovey feel. “Breaking Apart” is another one of those songs he sings with Diane Warren that tends to depress if you concentrate too much on the words and not enough on the music (which sounds pretty similar to a Los Straitjackets ballad). The album is probably half and half in terms of the mopey songs and true love songs. However, “Don’t Get Down On Yourself” is a truly “Forever Blue” kind of track that’s melancholy no matter which way you perceive it. How can one man be so ill-fated with the female species?

At any rate, there are some exceptional surf tunes throughout the album that are covered in heavy reverb and Chris’ baritone, which is equally at home with romance or wallowing in self-pity. And yes, they are good enough for listening pleasure only. The last track, “Super Magic 2000,” is a pretty traditional surf instrumental, which is a first for Isaak’s albums. It alone allows the album to finish on a lighter note.

Written by Nolan Shigley.

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