Living in Escher's World

Nashville Scene
Nashville, TN
© 1991 Nashville Scene
February 7, 1991

By Brian Mansfield

Nashville's Chagall Guevara plays its first hometown show since the release of its debut album, Feb. 8 at 328 Performance Hall.

When Chagall Guevara guitarist Dave Perkins faces the possibility of a nuclear holocaust in "If It All Comes True," his response is not to curse the bringers of war, nor to lament his own helplessness. In the face of certain destruction, his last act is an act of love.

At first, that anthem seems an unusual finish to an album that views its characters so harshly. Chagall Guevara's self-titled debut album is peopled with petty tyrants, freakish personalities, broken families. But what Chagall Guevara sees--and this separates them from nearly every other socially conscious performer--is not people destroyed by a twisted society, but a society destroyed by twisted people. That theme connects the opening "Murder in the Big House" to "If It All Comes True," and that makes listening to this album a sometimes painful experience.

Some very scary--and all too identifiable--people inhabit Chagall Guevara's Escher's World: the selfish father and his confused, love-starved son in "The Rub of Love"; the powermongers of "Play God" and "Monkey Grinder"; the man in "Can't You Feel The Chains" who runs his relationship like a police state; the "Candy Guru" who feeds on the loneliness of other people. The music is a suitably bizarre complement, a skewed mix of '70s guitar rock, British garage bands, and philosophical post-punk. Steve Taylor fronts this with a voice that sounds alternately conspiratorial and sarcastic.

Chagall Guevara's mean ethical streak is strongly, though not overtly, Christian, but the band conveys its message differently than most Christian acts. Chagall lacks the viciousness of the Housemartins or the Beautiful South; the group doesn't embrace U2's mysticism or the sometimes force feel-good happiness of much contemporary Christian music. When Taylor and company come down hard, their wrath is deserved; when the endangered lovers of "If It All Comes True" come together, their union is neither easy nor permanent.

In "Violent Blue," a powerhouse race-up that describes an encounter with a one-time friend who has "traded in your peace sign for a finger," (rhythm guitarist Lynn Nichols likes to say he's become a lawyer), the band cuts through the psychobabble to cold reality: "I don't believe it's the way you were raised, or the cards you were dealt, or a poor self-image/I think you love yourself too much."

Perhaps the most emotionally wrenching song on Chagall Guevara is "The Rub of Love," where a young son accuses the father who deserted him--"What was that vow you made?... And what about the girl you wed?"--but later admits that "if he ever really held me they'd have to pry me off with the jaws of life."

So Chagall Guevara needs "If It All Comes True" to redeem it from the bleak cynicism and sarcasm of the rest of the album. If the singer doesn't call his lover to stand by him, there's nothing left but despair. There is salvation in Chagall Guevara's world, but nobody finds it by himself.