What does singer-songwriter Steve Poltz and Prince have in common? Well, not much unless you’re from Australia, which in that case you might say that both have albums named after the last year of the last century. Noineen Noiny Noin is the answer Poltz got from an Australian promoter when asked when was the last time Poltz toured that country. Having gotten started as a founding member of the quirky alt-rock band The Rugburns, Poltz first earned wide notice on the Jewel hit song “You Were Meant for Me,” which he co-wrote with her when she was an unknown quantity. His solo career continued his penchant for the idiosyncratic, which doesn’t obscure from a reputation of being one of the more clever songwriters currently around.
A tenor voice that can at times can be confused for Tom Petty when the mood strikes him, or he can sound as lithe as a ballet dancer, there’s no mistaken Poltz’s style: he writes songs with humor, romance, heartache, despair, self-reflection and philosophy. Those aren’t topics that make him peculiar, it’s his ability to wrap all of these topics within a single song that does. The wit he injects into songs that are often a little startling serve to take just enough of an edge off to make them digestible. Other times, the songs are ingratiating (“Giving Thanks,” “22 Love Avenue”). The turn of a phrase, or a clever use of metaphor (“like a bottle of wine, I’ll put my lips against ya”), Poltz is a seasoned song crafter. Sweeping through music styles that makes the record even more unpredictable and delightfully surprising, Poltz touches on mainstream rock, falsetto soul, CSN folk, Little Feat stomps, acoustic guitar ballads and bluegrass.
There’s a few recurring themes favored by Poltz: countries carved out of Yugoslavia (“Croatia,” “Slovenia Breeze,” and “Dog In Bosnia”), severely blunt self-descriptions and confessionals (“Some Things About Me You Should Know,” “The Medical Career”) and sexual trysts gone terribly wrong (“Trash,” “Sucker Punch”). Religion tends to get an occasional mention or two throughout the album, too.
The centerpiece cut is also the most chilling. “Trash” (video below) is a disturbing tale of Johnny Cash killing a man from the point of view of the man he killed. You become riveted as you realize that the doomed character is a transvestite that Cash’s character targeted when Cash sang “I shot a man in Reno, just to watch him die” on “Folsom Prison Blues.” The first person narrative in a matter-of-fact style calls to mind Patterson Hood at his best, Poltz creates a train wreck you just can’t avert your ears from.
Another sad song, but also a pretty funny one, too, is the talking narrative “Salt Suit,” a tale of a man who walls himself off from caring and emotion because “it hurts too much” to feel anything.
Spread out over two discs, the second, shorter one is a bonus CD dubbed “Noineen Noiny Noin And A Haff.” Bonus CD’s usually means the dregs of the barrel, but Poltz doesn’t take his foot off the gas for disc 2. Over styles and moods that are anything but uniform, he gives his audience a uniformly strong effort. If you’re ready and willing to be introduced to the wild, wicked and graceful world of Steve Poltz, Noineen Noiny Noin is as good of a place as any to get started.