Every aspiring guitarist who taped a copy of Big Star’s Radio City
went on to start his own band. That’s conventional wisdom, but what about the misfits who scrounged a burn of Alex Chilton’s Like Flies on Sherbert or treasured a bootleg LP of his late-’70s Elektra demos? On Soap and Water, former Green on Red guitarist Chuck Prophet answers that question. It’s a catchy, accurate recasting of Chilton’s terrified insouciance and sickening pop modulations, and if it occasionally descends into pastiche, it scrubs behind Chilton’s ears with a loving touch. Prophet might not sing as snidely as the Memphian did on such numbers as Sherbert‘s “Hey! Little Child” (referenced here on “Heart Beat”), but he adds complaisant female vocals to an ingenious series of mocking guitar moves.
“Down Time” rocks along in the jaunty manner of the Sir Douglas Quintet’s “She’s About a Mover” and fades before it has time to gather momentum. Intelligent enough to take pleasure in the basics but too impatient to stick with anything for very long, Prophet sounds like the kind of smart-ass who doesn’t worry about earning your respect. This means he gets away with lines like “The women threw their panties/And the women threw their bras/Elvis hung his head/And said, ‘They’ll forget me when I’m gone.’ ” He affects wisdom on “Small Town,” a gorgeous meditation on big-city temptations—specifically, Prophet doesn’t want anyone to mess with his sister, who leaves town with only “a Realistic stereo and a phone that doesn’t ring” for evidence. Best of all is the title track, a two-chord stomp that finds Prophet trafficking in the cheap oppositions big brother Alex perfected 30 years ago. “Dry hump/Wet nurse/Loose change/Tight purse,” he sings, sounding like a man who wears clean underwear but is scared to change his dirty socks.