Tom Morgan: Orange Syringe
Ever wonder what Chris Isaak would sound like with the worst hangover of his life? I imagine it would sound kind of like “Best Thing for Baby,” the twangy second track off of Tom Morgan’s new album, Orange Syringe. Morgan’s gravelly voice and the dark lyrics make it very different from Isaak (he’s definitely not going for the man’s vocals,) but the slow, sad, surf-y sound is comparable to songs like “Wicked Game.” Morgan even seems to reference Isaak, singing “baby’s back on the Chris Isaak.” From the first two songs, I was expecting to really like the rest of this album. Not so much. This is Tom Morgan’s first full solo album but he was well-known for being in The Lemonheads and Smudge. Because of all of his previous work, I went into this album expecting good things. Unfortunately, I wasn’t blown away. The lyrics are alright, nothing mind-blowing, and the vocals are pretty rough. There are a couple of good songs, but one makes me physically cringe each time it begins.
His record company describes this album as a “pop songwriting masterclass;” there are a few clever lines, but I think that description is going a little far. “I’ll Provide the Wine,” a song that seems to be about sharing wine and a stressful conversation with his mother, makes mention of being held hostage and then talks about being on Stockholm time, likely an allusion to Stockholm Syndrome (since Morgan is Australian and doesn’t live in Sweden.) In “Best for Baby,” he’s “positive we still retain a charge.” Ooh, ion humor. The dark “One True Love” has plenty of sinister imagery around killing your one true love with a plastic bag (and somehow also plenty of blood; I’ve watched enough Law & Order: SVU to know asphyxiation with a plastic bag doesn’t leave a bloody mess) and skinning a rabbit. The line that was closest to impressing me was “Methinks ladies don’t protest enough,” a play on the classic line “Methinks the lady doth protest too much” from Hamlet. But in this case he’s singing about killing a lady, so there’s probably no level of protesting that could be seen as over-the-top. There wasn’t any brilliant wordplay here, but it definitely wasn’t expected pop lyrics. Some lines were just puzzling. I’ve got to admit, “Awkward Living” made me physically cringe every time I listened to it, mostly for how awkward Morgan sounds just singing the title in the opening line, but he just throws in that he’s been stubborn and sodomized in the chorus. I’m still not sure where he was going with that or how it fit into the song.
“Jungle Boy” features heavy use of bass, it could almost pass for Alice In Chains. “I’ll Provide the Wine” is simple with just a couple of guitars (no percussion) and lets the lyrics about the familial relationship stand out (though I wish the way he sings “mother” in a low, burp-like way didn’t stand out so much.) “Taste for Blood” is the peppiest song on the album and kind of puzzling. Its fast pace doesn’t fit with the other songs and the lyrics are far too repetitive (I don’t want to hear him say “taste for blood” one more time.) I was surprised to see that it was the first single from the album since it was my second least-favorite song (top honors went to “Awkward Living.”) Many of the songs feature an electric piano (especially on “Final Final the One the One”) and female backing vocals (which I believe are from Morgan’s wife Leticia.
All of that said, it’s not a terrible album. It definitely starts stronger than it finishes; I started off really liking the album through the first two songs (“One True Love” and “Best for Baby.”) “Virtuoso” is pretty good, too. I had just expected the album to a bit smoother considering it’s coming from someone who has been writing for so long.
MP3: Tom Morgan “Best Thing for Baby”