Just because Graham Parker has become a most happy fella doesn't mean he's a wimp. The joys of marital life have taken some of the snarl out of Parker's prickly world view, but they haven't taken the bite out of his music. The Real Macaw, a propulsive, brilliantly sung LP, features some of this British singer's best work since 1979's awesome Squeezing Out Sparks.
Parker's rage now seems focused on his former failings, as in the torrid "Just Like a Man." This two-and-a-half-minute tour de force showcases George Small's wailing organ, ex-Squeeze skins slammer Gilson Lavis' solid drum work and Parker's impassioned antimacho sentiment: "Just like a man/Dragging her down for everything he'll never be." Yet that cut's chorus includes a relentless cry of "Forgive him," and throughout The Real Macaw, Parker tempers his admonishments with an almost paternal tone. "Well, it's a shame what they do to these young kids/Just encourage them to act like clowns," Parker ruminates in the exultant "Life Gets Better," and on that track, as on the tender "Anniversary," the angry young man of the late Seventies sounds positively giddy with amour.
Rapturous though he be, Parker is much too sharp-eyed to get swoony. His voice, still one of rock & roll's marvels, consistently saves The Real Macaw from the quicksand of sentimentality. The sheer emotional desperation he can pack into a phrase like "I need you to ... live with me" shows that he has not reached his current euphoric state without some struggle. And on "Glass Jaw," there is a fusion of the singer's penchant for physical metaphor and his own astonishment at being so darned happy: "You turn stone into flesh, baby/And I almost get human," he notes, practically smacking his forehead with surprise. "I even grin when you're with me." I hope he keeps smiling.