Whether in Queens of the Stone Age, the Dead Weather, or the Kills, Dean Fertita’s bands have a need for speed. (Never mind his credentials as a backing musician on records by Jack White, Karen O, Iggy Pop, Brendan Benson, Beck, and more.) The Tennessee-based rocker brings that lust to his latest solo album, the self-titled Tropical Gothclub. Though it’s his first release under this evocative and clashing moniker, it’s far from the venerated musician’s first solo foray. Over the last 20-plus years, Fertita has also released music as the leader and founder of the Waxwings and Hello=Fire.
A sense of urgency pervades Tropical Gothclub, like driving away from danger. The scintillating “Wheels within Wheels” contains a crushing sense of ill-fatalism, with Fertita singing, “I can’t tell you what forever means.” He makes no promises, and it’s not out of a lack of love but rather uncertainty about the future. In this way, Tropical Gothclub is a claustrophobic listen: there’s no hope for escape, trapped in a doomed universe.
Though “Wheels within Wheels” and other chemical-infused head-trips like “Captivated” pull from Fertita’s other bands’ grimiest, most psych-drenched rock ‘n’ roll moments, Tropical Gothclub covers much more musical terrain. Tropical Gothclub surveys his work with all his collaborators and then some, demonstrating what a musical sponge he is, a student of the game.
Knocky, clopping, Spaghetti Western-hued shuffler “Where There Is Water” shows just a bit of Fertita’s range; listening to the song, one can almost imagine a tattered and dehydrated Fertita dragging his feet on the shoulder of a highway after crawling out of a car wreck. (Though it’s not until halfway through the song that things take a walloping turn when wrecking ball drums, a hammering riff, and drilling guitar solo come crashing through.) “Infernal Inside” is scuzzy but bright, upbeat garage rock, a busted neon sign, reminiscent of Room on Fire era Strokes, though Fertita’s voice hits highs more like latter day Julian Casablancas. “Death Rattle” features squiggly electronics, densely layered and manipulated vocals that sound like Daft Punk chiming in, and even what sound like vocal samples at the beginning. “Death Rattle” is one of the more interesting and unique songs on Tropical Gothclub, and it’d have been nice to hear Fertita explore these sounds and ideas in greater depth throughout the album. “Double Blind” is dense melodic pop, a tambourine-and-piano acoustic song that recalls the Beach Boys’ sunny pop that sounds like a dark cloud is always hovering just over the horizon. But like most songs on Tropical Gothclub, “Double Blind” takes a turn part way through, though not as dramatically as, say, the previously mentioned “Where There Is Water.”
All in all, Tropical Gothclub finds Dean Fertita stepping into his past in order to push himself forward; he dips into just enough nostalgia to prevent himself from losing sleep over the uncertain future. Hopefully, he’s found enough comfort on Tropical Gothclub that next time around, he can plow ahead in his musical explorations without looking back.
Pre-order Tropical Goth Club by Dean Fertita HERE
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