Now something of an auteur, the fourth instalment in Cass McCombs’ life and art is CATACOMBS, and it is a thing of rare imagination from an artist whose wisdom and mischief will appeal as much to those in the stately manors as his more familiar lost souls on skid row. Like his previous LP Dropping The Writ, CATACOMBS possesses that rare ability to attack both the listener’s heart with its melodies and textures, and head with its poetry and themes. It is, as wretchedly hackneyed as it is to say, one of those albums ‘without category’. Indeed, it is somehow without influence or even form at times as McCombs hits dazzling heights of songwriting after his early LPs, A and Prefection had been looser, more raggedly glorious affairs. Both musically and lyrically, it is a watershed.
On his previous three albums, McCombs’ lyrics have been obtuse, vague, opaque and literate. He offers strange episodes and vivid imagery that are mere vignettes by themselves but add up to something approaching a mood or atmosphere collectively. From domestic scenes to more metaphysical concerns, he somehow paints clear stories from disparate lines. However, again, there are moments on CATACOMBS where a rather more direct approach is in order. Hear the relatively coherent narratives on Don’t Vote and The Executioner's Song, where specificity of theme makes its way into his music. Of course, there is always a distinct wit at work here too as he paints his modernity with both a sense of the absurd and the poignant… Then again, he is as enigmatic as ever on Prima Donna and the ‘sequel’, Lionkiller Got Married.
Typically, and wisely, McCombs is wary of aligning himself too closely with any notion of confession. In some ways, he fulfils a different persona in every song, all there is to know about Cass McCombs can be found in his songs… in fact all there is to know about a lot of things can be found in his songs.