Dan Sartain is a man who isn't afraid to shock or rock in equal measure. His last two album covers have shown him offing himself twice, by gun and by noose, and have been crammed with more low-down rock and roll than a man could stand. Imagine my surprise to see the front cover of Lives featuring a freshly showered Dan hugging a camera wielding lovely. The reverse shows a slightly more edgy shot, a dead-eyed Dan in a market, looking half like a person being stalked, half like a skeezy date rapist. As far as sleeves go towards setting the scene of a record, this one works admirably.
Opening track 'Those Thoughts' is all about a paranoid Dan being hunted down, with people at his door, peering through his letterbox, shooting at him. It's over in under two minutes, a blur of jangling rockabilly that jitters with nervous energy. 'Doing Anything I Say' is more straightforward, a hard backbeat and an A-Team riff with lyrics on hedonism and excess spat out into the face of the listener. Production wise, it's a near perfect job here, as it is throughout, with Liam Watson running the show from his valve heavy London crypt-lair, Toe Rag Studios. Liam's got plenty of form for recording rock and roll there, and with the White Stripes, Billy Childish and The Datsuns all having passed through the doors. 'Bohemian Grove' has another White Stripes link, having been released on Third Man Records earlier this year. It's all Sixties pop rock, with swirling power chords that would have fitted well on any of the Nuggets compilations. Only when the tempo drops does Lives feel less satisfying. 'Prayin' for a Miracle' is a take on atheism that plods along, has a likeable but throwaway solo, and simply ends. 'Walk Among the Cobras IV' brings the speed back up, and thankfully has a lot more bite to it. A further chapter to the three that preceded it on Dan Sartain vs the Serpientes, this is the kind of venom-soaked psychodrama that Sartain excels at. While bands returning to old song series can sometimes seem like the last throes of the uninspired, here it's easily the best song on display, with all the tension of a back to the wall knife fight. Only the brevity disappoints.
'Voo Doo' picks up the slack again later on, on the second half where the highlights have thinned out, more whip cracking rock and roll. It's the joint longest song at 2.45. In fact, even though the album comes in at just over half an hour, it seems shorter than it actually is. Because towards the end, even the most hardened listener might find their attention waver a touch as the last four songs sneak Lives over the finish line. Suddenly they'll notice the music has stopped playing. Up until that point, it will have done more than enough to have held their attention.
7Tom Perry's Score