Rhythm & Views

Duncan Sheik

Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, I stand before you today in the hopes of defending my appreciation of Duncan Sheik. He may write the sappy "adult contemporary" pop of Clear Channel radio stations with vague nouns for names, but those are not the songs that are Sheik's real strength.

White Limousine, Sheik's fifth album, has the vapid pop of "Barely Breathing" stature, but leans more toward the quiet, dark lullabies that populated the strange Phantom Moon (Elektra, 2001), a collaboration with playwright Steven Sater. It's these quiet, sparse songs that so elegantly articulate the romantic tension between any two beautiful movie stars of your choice, which make Duncan Sheik something more than your average good-looking male singer-songwriter. These songs are part of a centuries-old tradition of emotional indulgence, reaching back to gothic novels and their idealistic Romantic heroines and heroes, and even further back to the age of courtly love, when the knight would put down his sword and serenade his lady. The stark images of war in "Star-Field on Red Lines," heightened by minor key changes a and mournful violin, and the sweetly plucked guitar strings and Sheik's near-whisper voice harmonizing over itself in "So Gone" speak to old romantic ideals that can be very, very hard to shake when the strings come in.

If you can forgive Sheik for the overly wordy, bouncy pop songs (like the title track and "Shopping"), and listen to the artful gorgeousness of songs like "I Don't Believe in Ghosts," with its dulcimer and organ, you may understand the indulgence, and acquit me of my crime.

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