CD Review of Mr. Lucky by Chris Isaak
Chris Isaak: Mr. Lucky
Recommended if you like
Dwight Yoakam, Nick Lowe,
The Mavericks
Label
Warner Bros./Reprise
Chris Isaak: Mr. Lucky

Reviewed by Jeff Giles

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I
t’s been seven years since Chris Isaak’s last album of new original material – which is almost as surprising as the fact that we’re still talking about Isaak’s music at all, given that he hasn’t had anything resembling a hit since "Baby Did a Bad, Bad Thing" received an after-the-fact boost from Kubrick’s "Eyes Wide Shut" (and that he’s only had one real hit in his career, "Wicked Game," a song which is now nearly old enough to buy itself a drink). And yet, thanks to Isaak’s genius for self-promotion and gift for playing to his rather limited musical strengths, he’s still going strong; Mr. Lucky follows a greatest-hits set, a live album, and a collection of Christmas songs, all of which normally signify late-career doldrums for formerly hugely successful artists.

Happily, judging from Mr. Lucky, Isaak’s muse is just as energetic as it’s ever been – which is to say, if you enjoy smooth pop/rock with strong Orbison overtones, then you’re in luck, because this is a solid set of Isaak tunes, charmingly low-key and utterly retro. Lucky continues the mildly modern streak Isaak started with 2002’s Always Got Tonight – although it doesn’t feature any of the obviously electronic pop textures that album used, it does include a pair of duets with famous names (Trisha Yearwood and Michelle Branch, to be exact) and finds Isaak co-writing with infamous hitmaker to the stars Diane Warren. They’re unexpectedly commercial concessions from a guy whose music has found its way onto the Top 40 largely by accident, and they offer a glimpse at the shrewd instincts behind Isaak’s laid back, self-effacing public persona.

The album begins with "Cheater’s Town," a song whose title pretty much sums up the baby-done-left-me vibe of Isaak’s whole catalog, and whose shuffling beat and atmospheric guitar solo will go down exceedingly easy with longtime fans. As with most of Isaak’s records, Mr. Lucky doesn’t skimp on the ballads; those with a fondness for his softer side have plenty to choose from here, including the aforementioned Yearwood duet (and Warren co-write), "Breaking Apart," as well as "You Don’t Cry Like I Do," another in a long line of broken-heart laments. The latter track, in particular, begs the question of whether Isaak’s lovelorn shtick is wearing thin (or getting creepy); at this point, he’s moaned about being left so many times that it’s hard not to wonder what exactly he’s doing to all these women – or wish he’d find some new artistic ground to till.

Fortunately, that doesn’t tell the album’s whole story. Isaak actually rocks out a little here, cranking up the amps on tracks like "Best I Ever Had" and "Mr. Lonely Man," which packs some cool gang vocals in with a nifty guitar solo, and showing some flashes of humor on the slow-dance-at-the-sock-hop anthem "Big Wide Wonderful World" (dig the baritone sax!) and the Don Ho pastiche "Take My Heart." All in all, it’s a nice little record; it shows about as many different sides as Isaak has to offer, boasts an admirably consistent set of songs, and gets in and out under 48 minutes. It won’t change your life, but it’ll sound fine after a breakup or on the way to a day at the beach. In other words, quintessential Chris Isaak.

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