Last year's bonus-track-packed reissue of Cowboys International's The Original Sin, an underground classic that Melody Maker Magazine awarded a #11 slot on its "Best Album List" for 1979, was manna from the heavens for fans who had waited years for a CD version of that pioneering album. Now long-time followers -- and newcomers, too -- have further reason to rejoice. Updating the New Wave/New Romantic synthesis that informed his original work, Cowboys International leader Ken Lockie has fashioned The Backwards Life of Romeo, a collection of all-new material that proves Lockie's skills as a songwriter, singer, and multi-instrumentalist remain as strong as ever.
Memorable melodies, techno-flavored arrangements, and soundscape-ish textures abound on the disc, as Lockie brings an eclectic spirit to traditional pop structures. High points include the beautifully panoramic, disquieting "Silent Sky"; the eerie, languid, industrial-tinged ballad "Escape"; and a song titled "Angelina" (a duet featuring Lockie's wife, Laura) that demonstrates that modern lounge-pop can indeed have backbone.
Other notable moments include the propulsive title track, and a surf guitar/Farfisa organ dance-pop song titled "Ready Steady Go" that sounds like a new millennium version of the B-52s. Just as important, Lockie sings with palpable yearning, providing a distinctly human counterpoint to the album's modern sound, and underscoring themes that run toward alienation. In a word, comebacks rarely get better than this.
-- Russell Hall