First, Adam Green was unsure of himself, an oddball troubadour with an acoustic guitar and a lot of weird ideas about what dolphins eat. The low fidelity of his first post-Peaches release, Garfield, belied his earnest lyrical delivery and uncertainty. Then he found himself a real studio and a string quartet and made Friends of Mine (2003), a glossy, dramatic affair that didn’t overwhelm or dilute the genius of his songs, the understated semi-conviction that keeps anything patently weird from going over the top.
During the tour for Friends of Mine, Green played a show in the basement of Philadelphia’s First Unitarian Church, and one of his opening acts was the then-unknown musical sideshow called Man Man. Following Man Man must have broken something inside of Adam Green — whose performance, in contrast, was a pen-light after a fireworks display. Starting with the next album, 2005’s Gemstones, everything about his music went over the top, a caricature of the Boy Who Would Be Neil Diamond.
And it’s stayed that way. Gemstones and Jacket Full of Danger (2006) have been Adam Green in the most White Pepper of ways, although that’s entirely unfair to White Pepper. Sixes & Sevens takes the necessary next step in his evolution by being even more divergent than its two forefathers. Whereas Garfield and Friends of Mine were cohesive albums — the singular vision of that kid in AV Club who wore a cape every Tuesday — Sixes & Sevens feels more like movie-hopping at an art-house multiplex, an exercise in genre formats and stolen identities.
“Festival Song” is Iggy Pop from Lust for Life. “Tropical Island” is Buddy Holly’s “Blue Days, Black Nights.” “Morning After Midnight” is every saxophone-saturated Springsteen song. “Be My Man” is “Stand by Me” with Michael Moore references. And so on.
But in a twenty-song expanse, Green fails and succeeds in equal measure, staying true to his former self on “Cannot Get Sicker,” “That Sounds Like a Pony,” “Drowning Head First,” “When a Pretty Face.” On “Exp. 1,” he gets as close to invoking Garfield as he has in years, with odd string stabs, layered fingerpicking, off-key vocals, intermittent spoken pieces, and a general disinclination for production, making the song sound like an off-the-cuff outtake that he decided to go back and expanded and dub.
The album’s best songs give us reason to hope, though. “Leaky Flask” is a blues dirge with heavy rhythms, slide guitar, chilling background vocals, and the kind of menacing brass found on later Tom Waits recordings. “Rich Kids” is archetypal Adam Green — a love letter to a girl about actually being in love with writing rock songs, drugs, weirdness, and being Adam Green. It gives probably the best summary for Sixes & Sevens — an album that is, appropriately, a fifty-fifty roll of the dice: “I could get used to this.”