By: John McFadden
Chris Knox is an anomaly. While that may be easy to say for most artists whose career spans decades but barely leaves a blip on the radar screen- for Chris Knox it’s warranted. His prolific output on New Zealand’s legendary Flying Nun label rivals that of Guided By Voices and Orange Cake Mix. From his punk band, The Enemy, in the late 70’s, to the new wave pop of Toy Love in the 80’s, to his many solo albums and Tall Dwarfs collaborations in the 90’s, Knox has been a busy boy and seems to be enjoying himself along the way. How else can you explain a 20-plus-year career, toiling in near obscurity?
Beat is Knox’s 11th solo record (including a few compilations), but that hardly matters. What does matter is that Knox is up to his old tricks- like a worldly bum with a huge rose boasting from his beat-up dinner jacket, skimming his way through pop ditties with witty lyrics and manic melodies. Beat starts off with a toy piano-drum machine driven pop song called “It’s Love”, which manages to get away with using the least amount of words to qualify for a song. While that song wouldn’t win any 500-word essay contests, the next song “The Man In The Crowd” would. But just as Beat starts to morph into a folky rant, “My Only Friend” stops the show with a stunningly beautiful ballad, which shows Knox has matured quite a bit from the charming yet inept ballad “Think Small” from his ‘91 Tall Dwarfs offering, “Fork Songs.”
It’s Knox’s singing, though, that marks the most obvious improvement from his previous lo-fi outings. With grace, he croons his way through these 13 songs like a disheveled brat pack ladies’ man. Even on peppy, horn-laden pop hits like “The Hell Of It”, Knox handles his duties with the greatest of ease, finally, arriving as the complete artist: a singer, an entertainer, and a wonderful songwriter. I’m sure Knox is probably sick to death about being the Kiwi version of Robyn Hitchcock, but with Beat, he, at least, is offering us something appealing in the year 2000. Beat reads like a good book by someone who may be dreaming of different things than the rest of us, but who has the charm and approach to keep your attention for 45 minutes, which is more I can say for most artists. He got the beat, yes.