Same As It Never Was

Even more of a flight from his avant-garde, wunderkind roots than Bad Timing, Jim O’Rourke’s latest finds the Chicago jack-of-all-musical-trades increasing the level of sophisticated pop in his lush, cinematic arrangements. This record features more of O’Rourke’s singing than previous records, and his voice, combined with his guitar, piano and sensitive ear for session musician arrangements, captures a profound melancholy. Eureka explores arty pop, with echoes of early ’70s Beach Boys, a jet-setty Bacharach-David cover and the split-second fear that the title track is going to turn into that "Hello? How Are You?" song ("Telephone Line" by ELO). The opening track transforms Ivor Cutler’s "Women of the World" into a widescreen epic, with a summer-morning-paperboy-delivery-in-the-suburban-sunshine kind of vibe. Experimental elements do arise on several tracks, as on the O’Rourke original "Movie on the Way Down," which starts off with a couple of minutes of spare, abstract guitar figures and elongated brass drones. At other times, O’Rourke seemingly informs the conducting of his underground Chicago cohorts with analog hints of the skipping-CD, digital-glitch audio art that he so often champions. Moments like these might be hailed as a return to "form," except that O’Rourke’s present explorations of pop forms are so intriguing and masterful. Even with the fleeting experimental flourishes, the sounds on Eureka would fit right in on a Warner-Reprise Loss Leader from the early ’70s, nestled right in with Van Dyke Parks, Ry Cooder and Randy Newman. Eureka is a wonderful exception to the adage that says they just don’t make ’em like that anymore.