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Chris Knox 

Beat
(Thirsty Ear)

Any review of a Chris Knox disc is going to require more set-up time than a Russian novel. No self-respecting fan of New Zealand's Flying Nun scene will need a Knox bio, but even after a career approaching three decades, he still needs more than a casual introduction.

Knox set the standard for New Zealand pop/punk in 1977 with his first band, the Enemy, which morphed into the hugely popular Toy Love. Just four years after his debut, Knox and constant musical collaborator Alec Bathgate dissolved Toy Love to create Tall Dwarfs, one of the most influential entities in New Zealand history. During the same period, Knox launched the Flying Nun label and began recording equally influential bands in their seminal state in his home studio (the Chills, the Clean, the Verlaines), as well as experimenting, in a solo capacity, with the studio as a sonic sketchbook. Thus was born a scene that continues to pay dividends to this day, in both second generation influence and first generation output.

Beat, Knox's eighth and latest solo epistle, deals with a subject that he has already addressed extensively, namely, matters of the heart. As a matter of fact, the cover graphic provides an apt metaphor, with a flat Valentine's Day/Hallmark-red heart doing a bad job of covering up a real, flesh-and-blood heart. The underlying message is that two-dimensional love is leaner and more romantic, but it can never contain the messy and real aspects of blood-pumping love.

Musically, Knox is a chameleon, adopting many styles and atmospheres over the years. On Beat, he makes a case for himself as the New Zealand version of Jonathan Richman, with his standard lo-fi ethic and goofy/poignant love songs taking center stage. There are moments that shimmer with the energy that Brian Eno used to pour into his vocal career ("Everyone's Cool," "I Wanna Look Like Darcy Clay"), while others suggest Knox's own early influences ("Ghost" plays like Knox's tribute to Iggy Pop's "Lust for Life"). And on the energetic "What Do We Do With Love?" Knox succeeds in writing the perfect pop song -- this from a guy who's already written more than a couple of perfect love songs in his career.

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