Not since Lou Reed paid homage to the city and era that forged him with New York has there been a song cycle dedicated to a place and reality that offers the core immediacy with the thump, churn and ferocity of Chuck Prophet’s Temple Beautiful. It’s a stripped-down rock ‘n’ roll record where the drums pump and echo, guitars slash and buzz, horns squawk like geese with rhythm, and the former wunderkind of progressive cosmic cowboys Green On Red bristles with an intensity that makes great rock burn. More than anything—even the punk aggression, the unadorned arrangements that slice to the core, the voice that tears through layers of guitars, bass and drums—there’s a far-flung Americana at work.
Theme projects can be dicey propositions. For every successful one that examines a subject in a song cycle, many more fail miserably as performers strain and stretch lyrics to fit the matter at hand. Leave it to San Francisco's Chuck Prophet to turn that generalization upside-down on his twelfth studio release since the 1990 dissolution of Green on Red.
Legend has it that during the recording of Elvis Costello’s debut album My Aim is True his backing band (which following a haircut and name change eventually backed Huey Lewis) would refer to EC’s various songs as “the Byrds one” or “the Velvet Underground one”. Listening to Temple Beautiful it’s difficult not to imagine a similar scene taking place with “The Kinks one”, “Tom Petty one” and “the Velvet Underground era Lou Reed effortlessly filtered through Jonathan Richman one” standing in for song titles. San Francisco’s Chuck Prophet wears his influences on his sleeve and of course there’s nothing immoral there, providing the artist can bring something of his/her’s to the party.
The Californian’s 12th LP suggests he’s ready to be as celebrated as Richman and Reed. Mischa Pearlman 2012 Thankfully, Jonathan Richman and Lou Reed are still with us and making music, so it’s inappropriate to talk about them as if they aren’t. That said, Chuck Prophet appears to be their natural successor (he’s even worked as a session musician for Richman).
Many songwriters have found inspiration in America's great cities, but considering its sheer oddness, few have specifically focused on San Francisco. As a Bay Area native, former Green On Red co-frontman Chuck Prophet finally takes a hard look at his hometown on this latest instalment in an interesting string of pseudo-concept albums he's made since finding his feet as a solo artist with 2002's No Other Love. Prophet's strength remains using his solid technical proficiency as a guitarist to explore different textures, some gloriously ragged and others possessing a tarnished grandeur.
Chuck Prophet's last disc, 2009's Let Freedom Ring!, had a sociopolitical spine informed by the city he chose for recording, Mexico City. Now comes an homage to San Francisco, the guitarist-singer-songwriter's hometown for nearly 30 years. Temple Beautiful is a long-defunct punk club where he attended his first shows, a place among a list of city references scattered throughout: Willie Mays, Harvey Milk, the Castro District.