As dreamers go, Grant-Lee Phillips is decidedly a product of his surroundings, a Los Angeles boy whose taut poetic visions are wrapped in a sun-streaked romanticism. Strangelet opens on a note of desperation, a love-torn soul craving escape. But it strives after hope, if not glory, building to a rare expression of life’s enriching possibilities for a sensitive singer-songwriter: “So much here/So much here/So much here for the takin.'”
Recorded in Phillips’ home, with the artist playing most of the instruments (Peter Buck pitches in on guitar; a few tracks are lifted by the beautifully understated presence of a string quartet), Strangelet juxtaposes naturalistic, stream-of-consciousness reveries with a guns-and-guitars, B-movie sensibility suggested by the use of titles such as “Johnny Guitar” and “Chain Lightning”. With his sighing, sweet-tempered delivery, Phillips cajoles the listener into entering his elusive tales and decoding his elusive language.
Following up Nineteeneighties, his unplugged album of tunes from that era, Phillips remains linked to the past through his use of loping melodies that strongly recall T Rex and an understated rockabilly approach that brings to mind Buddy Holly — though not on the song that invokes him. “That’ll be the day when I die,” Sings Phillips; “You could go the rest o’ your life/Till the fountain o’ youth runs dry.”