Review: Christopher Owens, Chrissybaby Forever

The music of Owens’ heart — unfiltered and unpolished, both to its credit and its detriment.
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The music of Owens’ heart — unfiltered and unpolished, both to its credit and its detriment.
Christopher Owens Chrissybaby Forever Art

Only Christopher Owens would entitle his third solo album something as hilariously saccharine as Chrissybaby Forever and then place himself in a straitjacket for the cover art. Then again, there’s always been something gleefully subversive about Owens’ work. The former Girls frontman pairs the simple melodic stylings of the 1950s and 1960s with hazy depravity and hungover confessionals. As with prior Owens efforts, Chrissybaby Forever sounds like Roy Orbinson and Lou Reed indulged in the world’s most bizarre bender, only to then commit their misadventures to tape. This sense of consistency is ultimately the source of both the album’s strengths and weaknesses. This is unmistakably a Christopher Owens effort, yielding a number of hummable melodies, but relatively few surprises.

The Beach Boys and the Everly Brothers alike provide the unlikely influences for some of the record’s brightest spots. “Coffee and Tea” purposefully derails its own guitar-driven structure with fitful starts and stops, accompanied by Owens’ nasal croon and the best in-song use of the iPhone text tone thus far committed to mp3. Album highlight “Me Oh My” rides a spiraling, sunny guitar lick that would provide the perfect soundtrack for a summer drive. “Selfish Feelings” bites the 60s British Invasion with a rollicking bass line, cacophonous jangle, and a welcome burst of harmonica. “Heroine” rips its gently loping melodic chord changes straight from Buddy Holly’s “Everyday,” but repurposes them into a lazy love song that Holly likely never would have imagined (hint: the homophone usage here is purposefully not subtle).

As breezy an atmosphere as the first half of the record cultivates, the wheels come off on its B-side with a meandering, soporific four-song-cycle that draws its most prominent musical influence from Pachebel’s “Canon in D.” Spanning “Waste Away” to “I Love You Like I Do” (nope, not an Ellie Goulding cover), the cycle highlights the fundamental dissonance in Chrissybaby between Owens’ music and his lyrics. Songs like “I Love You Like I Do” and the earlier “What About Love?”, both accompanied by a children’s choir, express childishly simple, loving sentiments, but damn it if they don’t sound incredibly depressing. It’s as if the Muppets all endured existential crises, making for the biggest downer of a Sesame Street episode ever.

By the time “Inside Out” arrives to rescue the vibe, the record’s momentum has been dragged too far down in a glut of reverb and whispered vocals. It would have helped, also, if “Inside Out”, itself an inferior rehash of “Coffee and Tea”, weren’t the fourteenth of sixteen tracks on the album. The subsequent “Come On and Kiss Me” is a delightful little sing-along, one that deserved better than to be stranded near the end of an overlong record. Tracklist editing definitely could have been a tad more judicious — with its middle section relatively shapeless, Chrissybaby Forever on occasion feels like it will in fact go on forever.

Christopher Owens best summarizes his M.O. on “Music of My Heart” — “If you’ve got a sing / go ahead and sing it.” It’s a worthy sentiment, and the notion that forms the bedrock of any singer-songwriter’s career. But not all songs of the heart are created equal. The record will be the ideal, unfocused score for lazy afternoons and sluggish mornings, but it won’t command too much of the listener’s attention beyond that initial aesthetic. Chrissybaby Forever is the music of Owens’ heart — unfiltered and unpolished, both to its credit and its detriment.

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Chrissybaby Forever is out now on MP3.