If Paul Westerberg moved to Nashville, hit the throttle on the happy pills and somehow ended up in a professional recording studio the resulting album would probably sound something like this.
Night Surfer is Americana manifest to the extent that it should probably come with a picture of Ronald McDonald and Marilyn Monroe driving a Hummer through the frozen food section of Walmart. “Tell Me Anything” could easily masquerade as a Tom Petty number; “Wish Me Luck” makes you think Alex Chilton never died and “Truth Will Out” is classic Highway 61 Revisited thesaurus-and-phone-book-in-a-paper-shredder Dylan songwriting. Every song on the album is recorded and mixed to perfection, indeed it’s eerie to hear a classic rock record produced this well; akin to watching a home video of a children’s birthday party shot in full HD. Prophet’s extensive experience as a session guitarist is also in full evidence throughout with every guitar part bearing the distinctive sheen of a consummate professional. Vocals, though hardly stellar, are more than serviceable with laid-back verses, plenty of energy behind the choruses and even a nice slice of falsetto on “Guilty As A Saint”.
Why, then, does this critic only deign to give it three stars? It may sound absurd to bemoan the all-round polish of Night Surfer but the brutal truth behind this album is that it is rock and roll music made by a man who is 51 years old. One gets the distinct impression that all those late nights at the mixing desks were fuelled by ‘a strong Earl Grey with three sugars’ as opposed to ‘all the blow I can take before my nasal septum falls out’. When Prophet sings about “happy hookers” it’s hard not to imagine him secretly hoping that Destiny has enough money to study Business Management at community college. So; wise and heartfelt lyrics, sing-along choruses, neat guitar riffs and the odd bit of orchestral backing/saxophone section/drum solo for some added zing, but ultimately a dearth of the edge, menace, swagger and hedonism that are the hallmarks of memorable rock. In a word Night Surfer is solid. A good choice for a road trip with your parents. A safe Christmas present for an uncle that likes Bob Seger. Soma for baby-boomers.