Heat Treatment, Graham Parker’s second Mercury album, confirms the promise of his debut, Howlin’ Wind, which appeared earlier this year. The rapidity of the followup is not the result of any change of direction; rather it reflects Parker’s and the Rumour’s abundant energy. The sheer attack on Heat Treatment makes the last album sound suddenly subdued.
Parker and his band are firmly anchored in that generation of British musicians who came to artistic age in the mid-Sixties. Their two apparent influences are Blonde on Blonde and the great Stax soul bands. The result is riff rock: phrases are repeated with increasing intensity, tracks build to a rich climax. The Rumour is rare for a British group in being able to relax and swing, and they’ve been given a crisper production this time out, which clarifies their excellence as backing musicians.
But backing musicians they remain — the album’s success depends on Parker’s voice and songs. There is nothing particularly original in his singer/songwriter stance. He believes in and expresses the traditional rock & roll male persona, with its mixture of narcissistic and arrogant put-downs of old lovers (such as the Dylanesque “That’s What They All Say”) and strutting celebration of sex (“Hotel Chambermaid,” “Back Door Love”). But Parker’s growing confidence has given both his contempt and his self-satisfaction an edge, and he continues to play his rock & roll loner role with complete conviction.
Parker may never be a big star, but as long as he develops his gifts for melody and metaphor and as long as he and the Rumour play with such verve, they’ll give an increasing number of people much pleasure. He is the kind of mainstream rocker whose excellence is necessary for a buoyant musical scene, and his is one of the most encouraging new acts to emerge from England this year.