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Articles and Reviews

S.F. Weekly
July 1999
Cobra Verde

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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