Bruce Cockburn - The Trouble With Normal

Wednesday 1st January 2003
Bruce Cockburn - The Trouble With Normal
Bruce Cockburn - The Trouble With Normal

STYLE: Roots/Acoustic
RATING 9 9 9 9 9 9 9 9 9
LABEL: True North TND289

Reviewed by Tony Cummings


Whether you’re a purveyor of catchy ditties aimed specifically at Top 20 sensibilities or a serious artist with a whole heap to say (like our man here), a most precious of commodities is the “hook”, a musical phrase or couplet which instantly leaps out and registers with a casual listener after only one hearing. Such a precious hook is demonstrated on the title track here. Bruce sings, “…the trouble with normal is,” then instantly a chorus of voices shouts back, “it always gets worse!” If this gem sounded dead cool in 1983 (though it’s synth pop production sound has subsequently dated rather badly) purchasers who were drawn to the album on the strength of that catchy hook would have been slightly bemused by “Hoop Dancer”, which with its free form poetry and extended solos is about as avant garde as the Canadian songsmith gets. The album is full of songs bristling with righteous anger as the artist witheringly critiques America’s imperialist interventions of the era. Cockburn had been given a book of poetry written by Sandinesta priest Ernesto Cardenal and read it while on holiday in the Canary Islands. These revolutionary poems inspired the songwriter to pen “Tropic Moon”, a brooding piece which takes an unflinching look at the US-financed war on Nicaragua, while the Spanish-tinged “Waiting For The Moon” shares a similar tension about the uncertainty of a possible invasion. While politics dominate ‘The Trouble With Normal’ there’s also Bruce (using one of his beloved reggae rhythms) on “Going Up Against Chaos”, a tale of lovers caught in the harsh realities of the city. Over Hugh Marsh’s searing violin and Jon Goldsmith’s purposely discordant piano, it hardly makes for easy listening but is profoundly powerful nonetheless. “Candy Man’s Gone” is about having faith in the wrong dreams and “Put Our Hearts Together” – another cut with a neo-reggae groove – Ku Klux Klan’s Grand Dragon and the Rev Ian Paisley get a bit of a lyrical pasting. The remastered version of the album contains two bonus tracks, one of which is “Wanna Dance With You”, which originally got left on the shelf with the songwriter eventually recycling some of the lyrics in his songs “Lovers In A Dangerous Time” and “When You Give It Away”. Just as interesting is the bonus “Cala Luna”, a moody instrumental. The sleeve says ‘The Trouble With Normal’ is a “rich testament to Bruce Cockburn’s increasingly sophisticated sound – and world view.” I wouldn’t argue.

The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms. Any expressed views were accurate at the time of publishing but may or may not reflect the views of the individuals concerned at a later date.

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