Articles and Reviews
Amplifier, May 2000
Cobra Verde's Nightlife
Cobra Verde's Nightlife has been hailed in many quarters as a kind of "glam" revival. The disc is adorned with cover art featuring two beautiful women, gaudily made-up. One dressed in fishnet stockings and a boa slyly gripping the neck of a champagne bottle laying across the lap of the other who is androgynously dolled up in patent red heels and a men's suit and hat. Their faces are all glitter and color. Certainly glamorous.
Open the cover and slip the disc into a machine and the whole image turns on itself. The throbbing, pulsating synth that introduces "One Step Ahead of Myself" places the band in an entirely different context. The massive explosion of Rock (capitol 'R' required - the sound is that big) changes the cover art's implications immediately. Cobra Verde isn't about the snazzy glitz of androgyny, this record isn't about the make-up, the high fashion or the backseat of limousines. Nightlife is about Rock. It is about the music as pure physical sexuality, power, and masculinity. The music within is not about the painted beauty of those women in that backseat, it's for them. It's not rooted in the multi-sexual duality of the original wave of glam; it has nothing to do with boys as girls, girls as boys or anything such - at least not in the overt sense that glam was originally born.
Where glam was about presentation and fantasy, Nightlife is about living the dream that glam dreamt. For all the sparkle and shine of glam's heyday no one would give a shit about it as genre if the music had sucked, and it is squarely in that sense that Nightlife does revive the glory of glam's rock and roll sensibility. It is powerful and memorable rock music. The songs visit the best of glam rock's murky corners filled with bawdy fun, fist thrusting, and attitude.
But Cobra Verde never set its sight on being a 'glam' rock band, far from it.
"I think that the 'glam' movement was really the last identifiable rock archetype." muses John Petkovic, Cobra Verde's founder, lead singer, and songwriter. "In terms of rock being big and filled with the masculinity that is inherent in it, glam was the last identifiable sound before punk sort of tore it all down and tried to reconstruct rock music. So in terms of that, in terms of the music being very, sort of, masculine rock and roll, yes we understand the 'glam' connection. We don't characterize ourselves as "glam rock', but hey, I understand the connection people are making and it's cool with me. I loved allot of those 'glam' bands, but I also like a lot of other music that probably influences me also."
Nightlife does honor the sounds that the glam era spawned and the mutations of those noises that made their way into the early 80's post-glam new wave.
Employing classic synthesizers, old drum machines, and songs piecemealed together in the studio, the record has a distinct 'this sounds like...' feel to it, but to its credit, the music is tough to peg.
The creation of music in this fashion pleases Petkovic to no end.
"I just love sounds. I like the ability of these old machines to create something entirely unique. I love music filled with the kinds of noises that come off the music and force you to turn the stereo down to figure out exactly what part of your car is making that strange clamor." Petkovic explains. "The ability of modern technology to exactly replicate a sound is a bit useless to me. I don't want my synthesized sound to sound just like anything. I want it to sound - well weird."
Nightlife is filled with marvelous touches of weirdness. The cabaret Dixieland in "What Makes a Man a Man" certainly harkens back to the intrigue an early Lou Reed record would bring, and Petkovic belts the song out like a wireless vaudevillian. "Don't Let Me Love You" is a synth-laden brood that, as a song, outperforms most of the dark technocrats getting wider acclaim these days.
The record sways across a spectrum of sounds on a thread of inspiration that holds it all together. "Back to Venus" is Velvet Underground Loaded -era. "Don't Burden Me with Dreams" is classic mid-80's alternative guitar rock. "$2 Souvenir" is Kinks-ian, without the smart-ass stance. The disc closes on "Pontius Pilate" another cabaret sonnet and character study.
Yet, as weird and varied as it may sound, Nightlife is a complete Rock record. The quirks work within the record's structure and the music never fails its rock idealism. Some call it high concept, much like glam-era records were, and there is truth to the idea.
"I think the record is mainly conceptual only in the way I wanted it to be real rock and roll" says Petkovic. "The kind of palpable masculine energy that rock used to have."
So if anything, all of this attention that Nightlife is getting as a record - all of the favorable glam comparisons - indicates that Petkovic has made the connection to that certain sexuality, a potent masculinity, that rock once seemed to endlessly exude.
"You know, we've been playing these club gigs, Minneapolis, St. Louis, Chicago, around the Midwest, and it's weird, people in these small places are high-fiving each other, lifting beers, hooting, howling "yeeeeeaaahhhh Rock and Roll man!", raising lighters, the works" Petkovic says. "It's like an fucking arena show, but with only a couple hundred people."
That's the sort of record Nightlife is. It's a admirable return to the days when a band set out to conquer not the world or to solve its problems, but to escape and make their own little corner of it a bit more tolerable - temporary rock and roll heaven.
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