Rhythm & Views

Josh Rouse

Josh Rouse used to be a more artistic singer-songwriter. His narrative lyrics and his conceptual aims--previous records evoked times, places and characters--singled him out among the whiny singer-songwriter crowd. By contrast, his seventh album, Subtítulo, seems to have fallen back into the sludge. Maybe it's unfair to expect Rouse to continue to make his records reflect a landscape or tell a story, except that Subtítulo seems to want to be a Spanish record--the press materials say things like "Subtítulo reflects back on (Rouse's) migration to Spain." But, like its immediate predecessor, Nashville, which barely sounded like Nashville, Subtítulo sounds, at most, vaguely Spanish.

Most of the songs are played on acoustic guitar, which does give the record a sleepy and warm tone, and some of the song titles are in Spanish, but the Spanish influence ends there. What Subtítulo sounds like instead is a series of sub-par outtakes from Rouse's 2003 homage to '70s pop, 1972. Attempts at texture, like on "His Majesty Rides," end up sounding too contrived and an awful lot like the music in the first version of video game "The Sims." There is nothing Spanish about "The Sims." "Jersey Clowns" kills the already listless mood--no one wants to think about New Jersey, of all places, on a record that is supposed to be invoking relaxed Spanish afternoons. "It Looks Like Love" and "Wonderful" almost rise above the muck, but the rest of the record so completely lacks flair that it's hard to remember there were any memorable moments. If this reflects Spain, then we all might as well go to New Jersey.