‘Son of Rogues Gallery’ review

Mark Matousek

for fans of
singles to download
‘Pirate Jenny,’ ‘Rolling Down to Old Mau,’ ‘Sally Racket’

Sometimes, an idea comes along so gleefully insane that its sheer absurdity justifies its existence. So when I learned of a two-disc collection of “pirate ballads, sea songs & chanteys” curated by Johnny Depp and Gore Verbinski, I couldn’t wait to revel in its delirium. A sequel to 2006’s “Rogue’s Gallery” (yes, there are now two of them), “Son of Rogues Gallery” fills the gaping hole that has made pop culture a hollow shell of its former self for the past seven years. If ever there were a time for 36 more pirate chanteys, now is that time, because…all right, so maybe this is a horribly misguided venture. But at least it would be entertaining in a so-bad-it’s-good way, right? With contributions from Tom Waits, Keith Richards, Nick Cave, Michael Stipe, Iggy Pop, Patti Smith, Courtney Love, Dr. John, Broken Social Scene, Michael Gira and Tim Robbins, this was sure to be the most ridiculous undertaking since Jack White and Insane Clown Posse covered Mozart together.

Yet against all odds, I was wrong. While these songs have a certain shambling charm, this project reeks of wasted potential. What could have been theatrical and exuberant instead feels like a placid collection of novelty B sides. Don’t get me wrong, this double-disc opus is profoundly bizarre, but it’s not insane. When you’re making pirate music in the 21st century, you’re teetering dangerously close to mental illness; you might as well go all the way.

Most of the artists, as eccentric as they may be on their own records, inexplicably temper their wilder impulses for the sake of stylistic continuity. Many of these songs come dangerously close to mid-tempo folk ballads and are saved only by staggering percussion or the occasional accordion. This could have been a perfect opportunity for some of music’s most adventurous minds to unleash their maniacal ids. Instead, it feels like two hours of throat clearing.

Thankfully, some of the contributors embrace what should have been the spirit of the project, letting loose and having the kind of fun this idea warrants. Macy Gray breaks up the first disc’s monotony with a playful reggae jaunt, and Shilpa Ray brings a refreshing swagger to the delightfully devious “Pirate Jenny.” But the album’s true highlights are stashed in the second disc, providing a brief glimmer of hope amongst the stifling conformity. The first, Todd Rundgren’s “Rolling Down to Old Maui,” is horrendous but in the best way possible. Backed by a four-on-the-floor electronic dance music beat, Rundgren hopelessly warbles through Auto-Tune, creating one of the most jaw-droppingly awful aural sensations I’ve experienced. Its audacity alone is enough to atone for its many sins. Two songs later, we are treated to another awkward attempt at fusing dance and world music as Katy Red & Big Freedia stumble through three minutes of discordant chaos in “Sally Racket.”

What is most disappointing about this experience is its complete loss of luster. The project’s considerable comedic potential is forever gone, spoiled by the cold truth of its rather tedious reality. Like that mysterious golden light emanating from the suitcase in “Pulp Fiction,” some things are better left to the imagination, where they can comfortably exist in a state of unadulterated perfection.

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