Couple a dramatic actor with a pedigree-unburdened rocker, and there’s no stopping the world for you to get off, because the quicker it spins the friskier it gets.
Once in a while, musicians come in pairs of two whose only concern is to have fun, and play with no regards to the style, as if there were no tomorrow – or yesterday, for that matter – with carpe diem their imperative. When those artists are Ted Zurkowski, whose credits include “Miami Vice” on TV and “Hamlet” in theater, and Ian McDonald, whose CV lists KING CRIMSON and FOREIGNER, it’s a sure bet the results of their collaboration will be cerebral and carefree at the same time. Named after a private eye, the veterans’ joint project is rooted in the ’60s yet has a contemporary ring to it to make the record rather irresistible and prompt the listener to start looking for clues to the album’s many moods.
The key to “Bad Old World” can be its sax-oiled closing cut, “Dementia” not only handling a potentially heavy subject with envious levity, but also pointing out that in such a state every day counts – and is accountable for turning routine into a new discovery. There’s a very rock ‘n’ roll kind of angle on display to stoke the optimistic stampede of the record’s title track and the entire album which, beginning with “The September Issue” – where guitars twang invitingly before the bass and drums kick in – sets both the sense of urgency and acceptance of time-passing in its infectiously beating heart. A certain nostalgia is inescapable here, given the band’s masterminds’ slightly cynical view on today’s existence, yet the warm, stately, spiritually swelling “Old Man” and the boisterous “Generationless Man” remove any suspicion of grumpiness, and whatever pining may peek out of “Brand New Car” whose jangle and rumble feel so sweet, it’s counterbalanced with the “life’s so easy now” refrain and the flute-shot psychedelic haze in the middle section.
Tapping into tradition, the folk-infused ripple of “Sailing” anchors Ted’s supple voice and Ian’s reeds, and the delicate “She’s Not Your Life” envelopes a melody in an almost orchestral lyricism to offer a hopeful uplift, something that’s also present in “A Girl Called Life” despite this piece’s slightly bitter crunch. But if the piano-sprinkled “Terry & Julie” is an epitome of a friendly approach to storytelling, a punchy ska will drive “Sylvia Strange” toward a twitchy smile, while an organ-greased gloom over “California” marries the sunny allure to portentous humor. It’s an ingenious way of complaining, so those in need of a shoulder to cry on should make “Bad Old World” a record of the year; the rest of us must simply love it.