This is the American dream…gone awry. Rugged Individualism gives way to feelings of alienation. Feeling misunderstood and isolated has always been a staple of punk rock, but is rarely handled with the same elegant simplicity as X. The only thing is, this isn’t X. This isn’t even punk rock.
Longtime fans of the Los Angeles group may be confused by the current incarnation of John Doe, or perhaps they may understand. As if channeling another Los Angeles artist, the opening track “The Losing Kind” calls to mind the swarthy vocals of Jim Morrison and the slinking organ of The Doors. On “Hwy 5,” co-written by wife and musical soul mate Exene Cervenka, the clunky guitar and disaffected vocals of Neko Case call to mind the awkward familiarity of a skinny girl in fishnet stockings and combat boots. For a solo album, Doe calls upon a lot of collaborators, with not only a backup group, but enlisting the likes of the above-mentioned Neko Case, Cindy Lee Berryhill and Doe’s 16-year-old daughter Veronica Jane.
Yet despite some familiar voices, his touches of acoustic and slide guitar on tracks like “Worried Brow” and “Ready” set a tone of dust-in-your-mouth desolation found on a road trip nowhere, whether you’re in the urban sprawl of the East Coast, the interminable flatlands of the Midwest, or the dry and dusty Western highways leading to the coast. If this is what happens when punk rockers “grow up,” the new school has a lot to learn.