Opener "Dropping Out" marries Stones stomp and soaring organ with sugar-fueled pop that cleverly asks this universal question of rock 'n' roll disaffection: "Is there anywhere I want to go?" The answer to which is, of course, no. The glittery and loping "All the Kings Horses" confesses the pitfalls involved when love for a troubled girl sours; the acoustic-driven "Down Home Cookin'" features Muddy Stardust's lovely Marriott/Stewart croon over guest Jeff "Skunk" Baxter's pedal steel; "Angels Run" might have driven Marianne Faithfull to tears, while "Harmony" would've fit nicely on Gasoline Alley; "Can't Get That Stuff" pines for the lost days of rock-star decadence and bravely mines Louisiana electric blues; and the melancholy organ, slide guitar and near-gospel tinge of "Lord Only Knows" lifts Clarke's vocal to a kind of trashy sainthood.
What's more, using two distinctive lead vocalists keeps the muse from straying toward routine. Stardust's vocals offer whiffs of cockeyed romanticism -- faith shot to shit -- with a heart pounding through, while Clarke's tousled voice is born of pure rock mythologizing. On the album's two cover songs ("Pills" and "Mercedes Benz"), Clarke sings with all the presence of a man truly pining for a time when rock 'n' roll still meant enough that it could change lives -- as we know it altered his and those of his bandmates.
What separates Col. Parker from the Pete Yorns and Strokes of the world is the band's ability to command a sense of exuberance. Every now and then, you can actually hear the band offering up impish smiles between ratty chord changes and sometimes sloppy drumming. In these days of odious rap/metal and phony teen beats, a wry face with a hooky song is indeed a rare and welcome thing.