Music Review: Chris Isaak - Mr. Lucky (2009)

Mr. Lucky is Chris Isaak's first general studio album since Always Got Tonight was released in 2002 (excluding his Christmas album from 2004).  I've been a big fan of his for a long time, and waiting 7 years for another album (and presumably, a newly-updated tour) was excruciting.  Overall it's a great album, and covers a lot of the different styles of music that Chris Isaak has been known for across his career.  However, it does have a minor drawback -- it's very obviously compiled from seven years of off-and-on studio work.  Unlike Always Got Tonight, Speak of the Devil, or even Forever Blue, the styles on Mr. Lucky are a bit more scattered across all of these sounds.  It's definitley not a bad thing, but it's very much less consistent in style than his previous albums.  There's really no way to review this as an entire album - the sounds and styles of so many songs here are very different from the others.  Instead, I thought I'd take them on one song at a time:

Cheater's Town
I think this is perhaps once of his best songs yet - it's definitely right up there on my list with Wicked Game and Somebody's Crying, and shares a style with both of these.  This song would definitely fit right in on Forever Blue or maybe even Always Got Tonight.  It starts nice and slow, and builds to a crescendo that leverages all of Isaak's unique vocal and instrumental abilities.  Plus, it has a catchy-as-hell chorus, as most of his best songs do.

We Let Her Down
The first single released from the album, it's a fairly strong outing - definitely has an Always Got Tonight vibe to it.  Not quite the blockbuster that Cheater's Town definitely is, but it's good for a radio single.  Very simple in arrangement, light on the backup vocals, but overall a very listenable tune.

You Don't Cry Like I Do
This one sounds like it could have come off of Speak of the Devil, which honestly isn't my favorite of his albums.  It's a mellow, plaintive song about lost love (yes, I'm sure you're as shocked as I am!).  Not the strongest of the songs on the album - it has a very acoustic sound to it, however, that's always good for a listen.

We've Got Tomorrow
Three downbeat songs usually signal a switch in tone on a Chris Isaak album, and this one is no different.  We've Got Tomorrow has an almost bluegrass tune to it, and is very catchy - it sticks in your head for awhile after it's over.  The horns in the middle of the song almost lend a little dixieland feel to the song, which makes it a nice change in pace.  This is perhaps the one song here that doesn't clearly "feel" like it comes from another album.

Breaking Apart (Duet w/ Trisha Yearwood)
I was hesitant on this one - I love the original song, and am not a huge fan of Trisha Yearwood.  It actually took a couple turns through my iPod for me to fully appreciate this version, and after some reflection, I think it's a pretty strong outing.  The interplay of the two singers, when taken as a "conversation" really makes the song even more heart-rending than the original.  At least with the original, it's just one side of the story, torn apart by being tossed aside.  Here, with a female voice echoing the feelings back, it makes you wonder whether there's any good that comes out of this relationship.  It's the opposite of "star-crossed" lovers - and that makes it even more of a tragedy than it was in the original.

Baby Baby
I think this song is perhaps my least favorite on the album.  It's not that it's "bad", but it's just missing something for me.  It's a perfectly serviceable song, and flows well.  It has decent lyrics, able orchestration, and a nice beat.  But it's missing the "oomph" that I like in most of Isaak's music.

Mr. Lonely Man
Echoes of "American Boy" was my first thought when I heard this one, and it's stuck with me ever since.  It's a great almost-rockabilly song that has an up-tempo beat and instrumentation that contrasts with the downbeat lyrics and self-deprecation...two things that combine as my favorite aspects of his music.  If Cheater's Town is my favorite song from this album, Mr. Lonely Man comes in a very close second.  This is one song I'm really looking forward to seeing him perform in person someday soon.

I Lose My Heart (w/ Michelle Branch)
When I first saw this song on the back of the CD, I thought it was another duet.  That's definitely not the case - Michelle Branch is relegated here to a simple back-up singer, which I think is somewhat a waste of her talents.  She sounds great, but having someone like her on this album would have been better used as a second duet, letting her use her talents to their fullest potential.  That said, this is a good song overall, but every time I listen to it I find myself wondering if it could have been better as a duet (or just a solo tune, without an additional name attached).  Almost makes you wonder if this wasn't something the studio insisted on?

Summer Holiday
Summer Holiday has  a nice, light, almost acoustic sound to it.  The song is a reminiscence of a time long ago, and reminds me of the many times I've wondered about past loves, what they're doing now, and if they ever think about the times that come to my mind.  It's a great, light tune that manages that perfect balance of upbeat and melancholy that is his forte.

Best I Ever Had
I don't know why, but something about this song brought to mind John Mellencamp or Bruce Springsteen.  It's nothing I can really nail down, but the song is all about the reminiscence of times gone by, of days spent long ago with your one true love.   It's all about looking back, and very little about accepting change, which is I suppose a common theme to much of his music, but the high-energy orchestration brings to mind other artists who have explored the same territory, often with less effective results (compare and contrast this song to Bryan Adams' Summer of '69, for example).

We Lost Our Way
VERY much a song with a Speak of the Devil feel, using some of the same instrumental cues (the deep reverb...haunting, almost off-key guitar) that were prevalent on that album.  I can't say it's my favorite song on the album, but at the same time it's not bad, either.  I think on an album that was more consistent in sound and/or style, this might have been more of a stand-out success.  Here, though, while it's a good listen, it doesn't really stick with me or strike me as particularly memorable.

Very Pretty Girl
The sound of this one harkens back to early Chris Issak (Silvertone or San Francisco Days, perhaps).  Particularly the intro, which sounds like it could have easily been lifted from either of those albums - heavy on drums, light haunting guitar chords in the background.  I like this song as a taste of that sound in and of itself, but as a part of the album as a whole, it's a little distracting, since it has such a unique sound/style when compared to the other songs here.  As a single, this would be a great addition to his repertoire, and this is another song I can almost picture seeing live.

Take My Heart
This song could all but be a lost track from Baja Sessions - it's got a ukelele feel to it - light, airy, and very island-influenced.  What I wouldn't give to have another CD that's nothing but bongos, ukeleles, steel drums, and Chris Isaak reworking some of his classic songs.  Baja Sessions, Part II - where are you?  If only this were the sound of the whole album, this might be a runaway it is, it's distractingly different from the other songs here, and that detracts from it in a broader view.  Individually, this is just a GREAT song.

Big Wide Wonderful World
I never really thought of Chris Isaak as a "lounge singer", but this song really makes you wonder.  It's got the slow beat and big horns that I usually equate more with that style than with the majority of his other work.  In fact, it reminds me a little bit of the difference in sound between Brian Setzer as part of the Stray Cats and part of his big-band orchestra.  This song really makes me wonder what Chris' music might sound like with a full complement of strings, horns, and winds.  THAT would be a concert worth traveling cross-country to see!