VULGAR PANG – Pleasures of Schizophrenia
Written by John Payne
Vulgar Pang – more or less a solo project by singer/songwriter/guitarist/bassist/etc Craig Hawkinson with sporadic contributions from other musicians – has titled their new album Pleasures of Schizophrenia. It has to be pretty high in the running for most aptly titled album I’ve ever heard, as Hawkinson exhibits many different musical personalities in the album’s relatively short span. Sometimes he’s a metal-head, sometimes a folk singer/songwriter, Sometimes he goes off on jazzy excursions while elsewhere he’s a snotty pop-punk singer.
So there’s plenty of schizophrenia…but what about the pleasure? Turns out there’s plenty of that as well. “Divided by Zero” recalls the Doors with a little Tool thrown in, which improbably (but smoothly) gives way to a version of “River City Blues” that maintains the feel of “Zero” but throws in some fantastic organ leads, courtesy of album co-producer and engineer Marc Golde. The bare bones instrumentation during the verses of “Inspiration” creates a unique feel and helps highlight what may be Hawkinson’s best lyrics: “Take this off for me / surrender to me like the first time…know what I am / when I take you up against a wall.” Powerful stuff. “Celebrate Yourself” is similar to Led Zeppelin’s funkiest songs. The best song on Pleasures, however, would have to be “Tangier,” which is dedicated to noted writer and spoken word performer William S. Burroughs. It brilliantly shifts the drums from trippy background instrument to hard driving rhythmic force, and incorporates Hawkinson’s best heavy guitar riffs while droning synths round out the textured sound. Finally, the abrasive, feedback-intensive solo near the end may be the best musical moment of the album.
The diversity is impressive; that most of the tracks sound equally good is even more impressive. As a whole, the album is a little too schizophrenic. There are a couple of Hawkinson’s musical personalities that would’ve been better off remaining dormant. The pop-punk personality’s only contribution, “Bender,” is about getting drunk to get over a girl and has lyrics such as “Goodbye / So long / Fuck you / Sayonara / This is my last goodbye to you” that are rather juvenile compared to the lyrical maturity displayed in the majority of the album. The generic pop-punk vocal style used here is also a far cry from Hawkinson’s deep, almost incantation-like singing on the other songs. Would-be radio rocker “Edge of Anger” runs into trouble when Hawkinson sings the words “reality,” “anonymity” and “vanity” with a very, er, Stapp-like enunciation (you know…“vanitaaayyy”) that proves distracting.
Ignore those two songs, though, and what you’ll find is a versatile musician and songwriter refusing to commit to a single style or genre – with thrilling results. This album is full of surprises, warrants numerous repeat listens, and does indeed find pleasure inside of its musical schizophrenia.