In the tradition of Springsteen (see: Nebraska) and Waits (see: all), Eric Bachman has become a seasoned storyteller peddling snapshots of the brokenhearted, abused, drunken and redeemed. Melancholic and sumptuous, Dignity and Shame is the pinnacle of Bachman’s efforts so far with his post-Archers of Loaf project Crooked Fingers.
A relaxed confidence surrounds Dignity and Shame. It begins with the Spanish-flavored percussion, trumpet and acoustic guitar of “Islero.” The stunning “Call to Love” pairs Bachmann with Australian singer Lara Meyerattken; its structure — male-verse call to female-verse response (think Human League’s “Don’t You Want Me”) — playfully pulls the listener into Bachman’s blissful and tragic lyrical archetype of unrequited love.
Bachman encapsulates his old angular rock tendencies and new piano solemnity in “Destroyer,” where a piano melody and simple guitar builds and explodes into a triumphant Archer-invoking fuzzy guitar and crash-symbol outro. Has your indie-heart hemorrhaged yet? No? Give it time: The nylon-string guitar, haunting lap-steel and bittersweet vocals (“Oh gracious love you were so kind to me./ You only broke my heart./ Let my arms and legs stay strong”) of “You Must Build a Fire” will surely be the catalyst. In a genius stroke of track placement, “You Must Build a Fire” is followed by “Valerie,” where a Dylan-esque guitar and bouncing bass lead a procession of horns to deliver Bachman’s charming, salt-of-the-earth lyrics: “I love you the best./ I don’t want to waste no time./ I’m tired and I want something new./ I don’t need those peep-show girls no more — no, I only want you.”
Crooked Fingers originally recorded twenty-one tracks for this, their fourth full-length, but scaled it down to tasty twelve. And whereas prior releases have all included at least handful of knee-buckling tunes, Dignity and Shame arrives fully formed, each track working collectively toward the beautiful ballad of the title-track finale. A comprehensive and mature album — from the lyrical interpretation of the title, to the musical arrangement of the concepts it conveys — the well-balanced Dignity and Shame is arguably one of Bachman’s greatest works to date.