Keith Morris & the Crooked Numbers – Psychopaths & Sycophants: Give Me Leonard Cohen Afterward

Have you ever looked at the sorry state of our current affairs, and thought to yourself “What would Leonard Cohen have to say about this?” If you’ve answered yes, then perhaps you and Keith Morris should share an apple pie under the rockets red glare sometime, because that is precisely the question that Morris has attempted to answer with his second full-length album Psychopaths and Sycophants.

Psychopaths and Sycophants (originally titled “Trump Songs for Leonard Cohen”) is Morris’ tribute to the fallen folk singer-songwriter, and a modern take on Cohen’s patent wryness. Morris attempts here, in a very Cohen-esque way, to decry the Trump administration via nine, politically conscious, and thematically rich, songs.

It’s no surprise then, that Morris opts to bookend this album between two Leonard Cohen songs, both of which account for some for some of the most exciting moments on the album. Morris opens the album with a (very) slightly more upbeat cover of Cohen’s “The Future”, a prescient track that speculates and laments upon the impending state of America, complete with lyrics such as “Get Ready for the Future: It is murder”. Morris’ take on the song is fairly faithful to the source material, right down to the back-up choir vocals, and Morris’ own Cohen inspired drawl. But more importantly, it works pretty well as both an album opener, and a starting line for Morris’ political lambasting.

The second track, “What Happened to Your Party” reigns in the tempo a bit for some spacey, atmospheric Americana, decorated with old-western sounding keyboard parts, and a pleasant sounding slide-guitar throughout. The arrangement competently paints an atmosphere of contemplation, but the main focus here is clearly on the vocals, which are brought further up in the mix here than on “The Future”. Morris’ semi-grizzled, semi-melodic voice is dragged into the spotlight for eight minutes of spoken-word, in which he rails against the establishment and GOP values.

The track is well-produced, and lush sounding, but it highlights an issue that can be found throughout the albums 53:06 runtime: most of the songs just aren’t substantial enough to warrant their average run-time of over five minutes. This is true of most of the non-Leonard Cohen (read: original) tracks on this record, which run at about the same pace, for about the same amount of time, with not much in the way of dynamics separating the tracks from bleeding into one another.

This isn’t to say that there aren’t clever lyrics, or thought-provoking statements throughout. In fact, the lyrics here are clearly written with genuine care and artistic integrity. Unfortunately, however, against the backdrop of widely spaced out guitars, and stripped down drumming, the vocals and lyrics take on more responsibility than they can ultimately handle.

Still, there are some interesting moments throughout. The aforementioned covers gel with the rest of the album fairly seamlessly. And the title track introduces some welcome variation in the form of some jazzy elements, including some great saxophone playing, and even a solo to boot. This track reinforces the idea that some simple steps toward a more dynamic sound could have resulted in a much more robust listening experience.

We’re two years out from 2016, but Leonard Cohen is still dead, Donald Trump is still president and the Chicago Cubs still won a World Series with a borrowed Yankee pitcher. The necessity for people to stand up for what they believe in, even, and especially in the face of oppression is extremely important, and should be commended in just about every form. Unfortunately, while Psychopaths and Sycophants succeeds throughout as a political statement, the music itself just lacks a bit of force. While the tracks are capably arranged and produced, this doesn’t stop a good number of them from meandering about, while propped up on little except for some honestly written lyrics. Ultimately, a shorter run-time might have kept this album throwing effective jabs, as opposed to gassing itself out on a few haymakers.

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