As some active music icons age, they often move away from the musical styles and lyrical causes that propelled them to public consciousness. They expand to new sounds or find new grounds, and they may bear little resemblance to their old selves.
While such an evolution may be understandable, it’s sometimes disappointing. While not everyone has to be Billy Bragg to maintain some degree of consistency in musical philosophy, it’s nice to see a sensible evolution in a musical career — rather than, say, searching for something new at age 50 to new discernible musical benefit.
Enter Hugh Cornwell, a punk icon who remains completely recognizable because he seems largely to be the same man he was at the beginning of his career but perhaps more mellow. He may be a case of a young punk rocker with a satiric bite but often soft sentimentalities, who becomes an older punk rocker with a no less satiric bite and more pronounced sentimentalities. In an appearance backstage at the Black Cat last Thursday, Dec. 5, Cornwell played a solid set drawn from this new album, Totem & Taboo, as well as a number of selections from his old band The Stranglers.
Hugh Cornwell (Photo by Kevin Nixon)
I’ve just listened to Hugh Cornwell’s new album, Totem & Taboo, released back in January, and it’s quite good! The former frontman of The Stranglers still has a good, strong voice that sounds like smooth leather, capable of both challenging with a bit of satire or soothing with a pleasing thought.
The title track of the album is a jaunty tune that explores differences in attitudes that two people can have about the same thing. “God Is a Woman,” as Cornwell said in interviews, is a song inspired by the fact that ancient religions worshipped a female goddess and extrapolates that concept into admiration of women all around. “Love Me Slender” is a fun bunch of rhymes with a wry nod to the Elvis Presley song, and “Gods Guns and Gays” celebrates freedom of speech.
Cornwell comes to the backstage of the Black Cat on Thursday with the promise to play lots of his solo material with the addition of a couple of songs from his days in The Stranglers. A check of recent set lists shows he favors the new album, of course, but also plays some classics like “No More Heroes,” “Golden Brown” and “Nice ‘N Sleazy.”
DC post-punkers Dot Dash open for Cornwell.
w/ Dot Dash
Thursday, Dec. 5