An opening train whistle, not of the lonely blues variety but one of industrial strength, a strength long since passed. A woman’s voice garbling in Spanish, not unlike the one cooing all over Jane’s Addiction’s “Stop”. The sound of creaking gates. A nonchalantly strummed acoustic builds from beneath the rabble and the hustle, eventually building up to break through the surface din. A few brushed organ keys ring out, signaling the arrival of the ominous drumbeats which are accompanied by several electric leads soaked in so much wah wah it sounds like the instrument is being played underwater. Somehow all this muck congeals, morphs into a solid frame, a rhythm shot straight through with a swaggering sense of dread and purpose.
And we’re off.
I’m on the next judgement train, let me raise the pearly gates
Now we’re with a solid protagonist, the Rustin Man perhaps, rolling on a doomed train. We know this from the fully ominous musical crashings surrounding it, but apparently the protagonist doesn’t. He knows he’s led a wicked life, but he’s convinced he’s on the heaven-bound train. He’s a chancer, and he’s laid down his rigged cards in full confidence on this one.
Now my time can’t escape, let me race beyond my fate
See I’m always good at rigging games
So I stare in his eyes, wait to raise the pearly gates
This is music as literature, with tension and character development and epiphanies, but it isn’t stream of conscious. It’s blues-based rock biz as usual. It’s a verse, followed by a solo, followed by a verse, followed by another solo, followed by an outro. A novella packed into the space of five minutes and four chords and two pentatonic scale solos. But back to our beloved scoundrel as he sits playing cards with God on the train of judgement. He’s staring into the eyes of God. He’s smirking. His hand has him beat, he just knows it. The pearly gates shall be his.
Now the trees are rushing by like a flash from other lands
And the lord slipped away, left me with gold and a pot of sand
A tunnel has turned the air so black
Can’t believe I’ve been done, never lie to the darker side
When the girl takes my hand, I can feel her skin is a lot like mine
I’m pretty sure we all knew where our Rustin Man was heading, but the spoiler has been spoiled with some coal black lyrics laced with little twists, pots of gold and sand, Devil’s helpers with human skin. It’s obviously not the pearlies for the Rustin Man, but he sounds enthralled to finally accept that he’s aboard the dark train, that God turns out to be a better cheat than he, that He may in fact BE the Devil, a grudging respect coming through in his voice from one rake to another.
So who is behind this intriguing track on the even more intriguing new Domino release, Drift Code, by Rustin Man? Why, it’s the bassist from Talk Talk, Paul Webb, who hasn’t released anything in almost two decades. And it shows. Apparently the man has spent the past 17-or-so years slaving over this surgically executed piece of musical theater. Here’s what Webb has to say about the track:
“He is a bit of a cheat and a chancer, confident he can outwit God to win his place in Heaven. As it develops, he realizes it’s not going so well and God has cunningly switched places with the devil. By the end, the guy has been out-played and realizes he actually has a lot in common with the devil. I like to think it has a happy ending!”
Judging by this track alone, we can only salute Mr. Webb for taking the time to gleefully and carefully construct such a lavish slice of ambitious pop evil.