Articles and Reviews
In Rock School, John Petkovic -- the Cleveland-based radio host, newspaper
columnist, Internet cavalier, and singer/guitarist/all-around mastermind of
Cobra Verde -- missed the lecture on how rock stars are supposed to be
listless layabouts who can barely get out of bed, much less produce quality
work. In fact, judging by Nightlife, the one-time aide to Prince Alexander
of Yugoslavia missed that entire semester. As a songwriter, Petkovic is
smart as a whip, and although Cobra Verde will most probably be best
remembered for backing up Robert Pollard on Guided by Voices' mediocre 1997
album Mag Earwhig!, Nightlife contains enough rollicking, glam-inspired
tuneage to make Petkovic's former employer and fellow Ohioan weep with envy.
Opening with the stomp of "One Step Away From Myself," Petkovic sings, "I'm
always getting closer to you/ But I'm one step away from myself," sounding
not unlike an extra-frantic Brian Ferry circa 1972. In fact, much of
Nightlife recalls Stranded-era Roxy Music, when Ferry was more concerned
with scoring than seducing, and the band flexed the muscle it lost in later
years. "Crashing in a Plane" -- complete with slashing chords, sax bleats,
and Petkovic's affected vocals -- threatens to out-Roxy even its progenitor.
The remainder of Nightlife plays like a history of the last two decades of
theatrical rock, with references to everyone from Bowie to the Damned to
Nick Cave to Joy Division (the eerie "Tourist"). There's a certain
schizophrenia to the album; it's as if Petkovic, unable to decide which hero
to channel, decided to tackle as many as he could handle in one sitting.
"Casino" sounds like the Damned jamming with Spinal Tap, yet never comes off
as jokey, while "Heaven in the Gutter," with its start-stop chording and
frenetic drum fills, is an obvious nod to the Who. However, even amid the
mayhem, there are two outright anomalies: "What Makes a Man a Man" is New
Orleans riverboat jazz topped with Petkovic's excellent croon, while the
closing "Pontius Pilate" is Hebrew folk.
Such all-out embracing of previous styles -- especially '70s glam -- has
been the death of more than one well-meaning musician. Yet what allows Cobra
Verde to pull off Nightlife without sounding overly fawning is the band's
own force of personality. While it's true that they're traveling down a road
paved with the sweat, glitter, and sequins of others, Petkovic and his
bandmates have their own agenda -- and on Nightlife they have the confidence
and talent to assert it.
- Tim Scanlin
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