Album Review: Rod Melancon – ‘Pinkville’

The short version: Rod Melancon goes further than ever before with his primal, unsettling and visceral tones on ‘Pinkville.’

  • Favorite tracks: “The Heartbreakers,” “Westgate,” “Cobra,” “Rehabilitation,” “Lord Knows”
  • Least favorite track: “Corpus Christi Carwash”
  • Rating: 9/10

The long version: In troubled times, music is a either a source of refuge from turmoil or another channel through which we actively process different emotions. If you’re listening to a Rod Melancon album, though, there may be something more disturbing going on entirely.

Melancon’s brand of southern-Gothic inspired roots-rock and Americana isn’t necessarily for everyone, but for fans who have stuck around, he’s created some excellent songs, including “Lights Of Carencro.”

But when I caught wind that he was switching things up a little ahead of his new release, Pinkville, I’ll admit I was a bit worried. Branching out is good for artists, but not for the sake of ditching their best traits.

Thankfully, what’s mostly changed about Melancon from his last album to his newest one is the presentation behind it. Whereas past projects flirted with the macabre and murky darkness here and there, Pinkville is a relentless deep-dive into another world. More than any other project thus far, Melancon has crafted a complete album filled with excellent storytelling, fantastic production, and a brilliant mind behind the wheel of it all.

I wouldn’t necessarily call Pinkville a concept record by any means, but it is an album where the focus is largely on the overarching narrative. The characters here are disturbed, sometimes because of traumatic childhood events, and other times because they just deserve it.

What’s always been an asset to Melancon’s writing style though is that he sings from the perspective of his tortured characters. Only on the spoken-word introduction of the title track does he look from afar, observing a Vietnam War veteran suffering from PTSD which finds a younger Melancon absorbing a loss of innocence. It’s the first introduction into not only what lies ahead in this world for the child, but also what unfolds later in the album.

And again, that doesn’t mean the lessons always click. A man who has a promising football career in “Westgate” blows it to have his chance at being a dumbass teenager. Only later when he’s a soldier in Afghanistan does he realize what he could have had instead. “Cobra” doesn’t see a bank robber fare much better either as he fails in his heist, and just think – that’s how Melancon chooses to end the album.

Of course, that’s when the album is opting for sick, twisted humor and irony. It’s only on “Rehabilitation” when we get a look at users recovering from addiction that we see the struggles that come with it. You don’t want to ever assume artists are writing from a personal place, but it’s a further testament to Melancon’s writing style that he’s able to give such life to these stories or approach them in a realistic way.

But the character who had a promising career lined up on “Westgate” is one of the few lucky ones on this album. Sometimes those choices aren’t so clear cut, like the man forced to either move on with his life and start a family or risk it all to track down the man who killed his brother on “Lord Knows.” Sometimes it’s harder to cast judgment when we get that inside perspective or full story.

If anything, the covers of Tom Waits’ “Goin’ Out West” and Bruce Springsteen’s “57 Channels” only further the dark, twisted nature of the album, further offering glimpses into the minds of unsettling characters.

But Pinkville also has another side to it, and that’s being a tribute to musical heroes. It sounds weird and messed-up, and it probably is, but in terms of the instrumentation and production, this is also Melancon’s most adventuresome project to date. His tribute to Tom Petty on “The Heartbreakers” feels like three songs molded into one, and by the time it reaches that explosive end, it’s the cathartic bit of levity we needed at this point and weren’t expecting. The title track is mostly only led by an ominous bassline, but it’s enough to carry it forward.

Basically, this album mostly sounds unhinged for a reason. Even on a technical level, there’s some excellently crafted songs here. “Goin’ Out West” only gets increasingly primal in nature as it goes on, and the funkier ’70s-inspired riff of “Westgate” is damn excellent. I would have preferred to hear “Rehabilitation” take off musically after awhile, but its understated, psyched-out moodiness is certainly understandable given the content.

Really, my main criticism for this album does boil down to that nitpick. There are some tracks that feel unfinished or, in the case of “Corpus Christi Carwash,” stifle the momentum. For as much as I think “Lord Knows” is the best track here lyrically, it does stay fairly low-key throughout its duration, which is a shame once we reach that climax.

But that’s also a testament to how off-the-rails some of these other tracks get, like the unexpected grimy organ solo on “Cobra.” It’s actually a surprise that a song called “Manic Depression” is one of the tamer tracks here.

And further credit for this album’s unique spirit has to be credited to Melancon himself. As a vocalist, his lower, gravelly vocal tone lends itself nicely to this darker-tinged material. But the most exciting moments come when he fully unleashes that anger and frustration like on “Goin’ Out West,” “Westgate” or the echoed hook of “Rehabilitation.” Again, for as much as Melancon embraces his characters from a lyrical perspective, he’s equally adept at framing himself nicely into the situation at hand as well.

Pinkville is one of those rare, exciting projects that unleashes something primal within and manages to keep you on your toes. Compared to past projects, Pinkville feels more cohesive. One could also argue, though, at ten tracks, and with two of them being covers, the album ends just as it really starts to get good. Still, Melancon’s the kind of writer who keeps you engaged from beginning to end with his stories, and the album manages to find a unique thematic blend of exploring the human psyche while also saluting musical heroes. This is a weird album, and it won’t be for everyone. But for those who have already embraced Melancon’s style, he’s only getting better at his craft.

(Light 9/10)

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