opinion byMATTHEW M. F. MILLER
With all due respect to The Black Keys, Manipulator is the kind of album I’ve always hoped they would make. It is not, however, the album anyone expected Ty Segall to make. Segall’s seventh album, at the age of twenty-seven, is an effortlessly retro rock affair that is heavy on hooks, light on production and easy on the ears. Instrumentation rarely includes more than guitar, bass and drums, yet almost every track here – and there are a whopping 17 – sounds fully developed, expansive and self-assured. It’s a massive change of course, and loyal fans might be thrown by the precision and coherence of Segall’s once meandering, experimental pop past, but hold on tight – it’s worth the bumpy ride.
Brevity is part of Segall’s key to success here, with nine tracks running at or under three minutes – there is no overindulgence or excess. Mostly, however, the successes are the songs themselves, which just plain rock. The driving funk of “Tall Man, Skinny Lady” sounds like a middle point between Beck and Jack White, and the pure bliss of “It’s Over” cries like the superhuman sonic baby of “Seven Nation Army” and The Byrds “I’ll Feel A Whole Lot Better”.
Classic guitar rock isn’t the flavor of the month, but trips through the brutally rocking ”The Crawler” and “Feel” are breathless exercises in ax wielding, the latter featuring a guitar solo so charged and fierce you’ll be aching to grow a set of unruly mutton chops, buy a Harley and protest something … anything. The retro feel never devolves into gimmickry, primarily because the songs are fresh, rowdy and sincere. Standouts “Green Belly” and “The Faker” are decidedly Ty Segall songs, just buffed and focused.
It’s that focus that makes Manipulator Segall’s finest moment. There’s an unforeseen clarity in his compositions and vocals. He’s not hiding behind fuzz and distortion, rather allowing his garage rock proclivities to stand alongside his 60s & 70s psychedelic rock influences. And damn if they don’t stand tall and proud. B