All of a sudden, all the lights in the room seemed to dim, and I only seemed to be able to focus on the page in front of me. Then it hit me like a sledgehammer!" Tal Bachman is in the middle of gleefully recounting in dramatic detail a defining moment in his musical life. He had grown up in a house thoroughly permeated with music, mastering drums, piano, and guitar at an early age, and, thanks to his father?s voluminous record collection (his father is Randy Bachman, erstwhile member of The Guess Who and Bachman-Turner Overdrive, and author of such hits as "These Eyes" and "Takin? Care of Business") had grown intimately acquainted with what he describes as "the popular music canon of the previous fifty years" - everything from Rodgers and Hammerstein to Roy Orbison, from The Kinks to Irish folk music, from Antonio Carlos Jobim and John Coltrane to The Beatles and The Who, from Led Zeppelin to The Smiths. That he should pursue music was obvious to everyone - except Bachman himself.
"When I was eighteen I stopped listening to music," Bachman states flatly. "I was a huge U2 fan, but The Joshua Tree unnerved me, and Rattle and Hum terrified me - my favorite band was cracking up! The Smiths had long since broken up, The Cure had become redundant, Queen had been comatose for years, hair bands sucked, and I just freaked out." He spent two years abroad, and then, somewhat peculiarly, enrolled in a small university in Utah, where he wound up studying political philosophy. Now, as he humorously recounts it, five years after turning his back on pop music, he sat in a classroom "in the middle of nowhere - I mean, Utah" staring, transfixed, at his open copy of Plato?s Republic. "I had come to the section where Plato argues that everyone is by nature suited to a particular activity, which ideally they would pursue. Then I remember reading where Aristotle said that ?nothing which exists by nature can be changed by habit.? And then I hit the part where Plato explains why music is ?sovereign,? and how it shapes customs and laws and how it can completely alter society, and I thought, ?What am I doing here? I?m a musician - a songwriter! I?M AN ACORN, AND I MUST BECOME AN OAK!" And so Bachman, still "smarting from Plato?s sucker punch," surrendered to nature and accepted his fate, quitting school and moving back to his woodsy hometown near Vancouver, Canada, to begin searching for his muse.
The only hitch was that it was 1995. The entire industry was still caught up in the search for the next "alternative" breakthrough; and in the aftermath of Nirvana there was no place for a songwriter like Tal Bachman. "I actually missed the whole grunge thing," Bachman admits. "I didn?t know what was going on. I didn?t care. I was out in the woods trying to look inside myself, trying to make sense of these feelings I had - that I had to write songs, that I had something important inside me that had to come out, something that nobody could stop. I sent out tons of demos to record companies, but of course, my material was hopelessly out-of-sync with what was popular. The industry wanted ?attitude? and permanent angst and stuff, but I was just trying to write good songs." After all, it is in songwriting "renaissance men" like Harry Nilsson, David Bowie, Elton John, and Paul McCartney that one finds the proper context for what Tal Bachman does. Pretty heavy company for sure, but the comparison comes from the fact that these are artists great not for making the most of their limitations, but for being completely without limitations. Like the aforementioned, Bachman combines a reverential understanding of pop music history with an unabashed love for - almost worship of - the powerful chord progression, the unforgettable hook and the affecting lyric. During his period of introspection, Tal incorporated these musical principles into a group of songs which he sent to a variety of record companies as a self-produced demo. These songs caught the ear of Columbia Records and now form the core of his self-titled debut album.
And what an album it is! Crackling and bubbling with musical excitement, bursting with uninhibited emotion, sparkling with lyrical wit, each song stands on its own as a miniature musical document, yet somehow combines with the rest to form a seamless, potent whole. Produced by Bob Rock (Metallica, The Cult, Veruca Salt, Aerosmith) and Tal Bachman, the album is an explosion of exhilarating, hook-laden, timeless pop/rock - in reality, a distillation of Bachman?s lifelong torrid, and sometimes volatile, affair with popular music (and brief fling with philosophy). It starts out with the one/two power pop punch of "Darker Side of Blue" and "She?s So High" - as enthusiastic and catchy as prime Cheap Trick or ELO. (Indeed, Bachman remains an unabashed ELO fan, proclaiming Jeff Lynne to be "better than Mozart - well, at least a lot louder," and likes to refer to ELO albums as "sacred musical revelations.") Up third is the atmospheric and heart-breaking "If You Sleep," a contemplation of fate in the face of a loved one?s illness, followed by the stirring "You Love (Like Nobody Loves Me)." "Strong Enough"?s moody lyrics and crashing choruses consider the risks of obsessed imagination, and "You Don?t Know What It?s Like" drives the pop quotient even higher with its raunchy Jimmy Page-like riffs and anthemic chorus. "I Wonder" is a Hunky Dory-esque tour de force whose unusual lyrics depict a child who, provoked by an enlightening encounter with his grandfather, suddenly begins to see himself in an entirely new light. The innocent romance of "Beside You" is contradicted by the tongue-in-cheek sarcasm of "Romanticide," which in turn is complemented by the frantically accusatory "Looks Like Rain."
But the bitterness ends with the haunting, intoxicating beauty of "You?re My Everything," a soaring love song featuring Bachman?s crooning vocal, a breathtaking string score by Bachman and legendary arranger Paul Buckmaster, and a seductive slide solo. And fittingly, "I Am Free," with its majestic chorus and powerful spiraling coda, brings to a close this extraordinary debut effort. "It would be nice somehow to rekindle the significance of rock ?n? roll," Bachman muses. "I want this record to mean something to people, to entertain them, but maybe also to jar them into seeing something a little differently, or feeling something more acutely than before. I want it to move people." Tal Bachman can bet on it.