When singer/songwriter Elliott Murphy grew up there, New York’s Long Island was already overloaded with harried commuters, McDonald’s hamburger joints, and two-car garages. Like Lou Reed before him, Murphy hightailed it out of there as quickly as he could; and he has since spent most of his time in Europe and New York City.
But while Reed concentrates on inviting his listeners to “walk on the wild side,” Murphy writes often of the suburban life he left. In songs like “Hometown,” “How’s the Family,” and “White Middle Class Blues,” he offers caustic and often sarcastic impressions of the middle class. “There’s so much food on the table, you can throw away your vegetables,” he sings at one point. “The day you’re born you know you’ll never kiss ass / Ain’t life a blast / So low down, middle class.”
Commenting on the world he’s just beginning to encounter, Murphy is no less cynical. “Last of the Rock Stars” (the Dylanesque single culled from this debut album), for example, is a skeptical look at the “star” label. Its phrases (“purple haze,” “hi-de-hi, hey-de-hey,” etc.) recall a succession of “stars” to drive home Murphy’s contention that they now rise and fall almost too quickly to keep track of them.
Be that as it may, Murphy himself deserves success. A few of the tunes on Aquashow demonstrate the problems common to many first albums, but much of the material leaves little doubt as to this artist’s talent. Lyrically, the songs are imaginative and strongly autobiographical. And musically, though there’s a similarity to middle-period Dylan and recent Lou Reed, this is not a mere repackaging of old ideas. Tightly packed stanzas are confidently delivered, melodies are catchy, and the production makes good use of Murphy’s sidemen, who themselves are an asset.
Maeretha Stewart, who has sung with the Stones and Dylan, is prominent in Murphy’s backup chorus. Ex-Byrd Gene Parsons handles the drumming and keyboard man Frank Owens delivers the same level of musicianship he gave us on Dylan’s Highway 61 Revisited.
While record buyers get their first taste of Aquashow, Murphy is already busy with new projects. Tours of the U.S. and England are in the works, he told me recently, and most of the tunes for a second album have been written. There will be some more material on suburbia and stardom, he says, but tunes exploring fresh subjects are to be expected as well.
“There’s one song in particular that I’m really excited about,” Murphy says. “Just finished it. It’s called ‘The Love Song of Eva Braun.’ Should go over really big in Germany.”
If it sounds as good as the Aquashow material, it just might “go over” in a lot of places.