Though his baritone has been consistently compared to that of Jim Morrison, Mister Link’s music connects with more modern sounds on Do It in the Name of Love, from the Cars and R.E.M. to the Smiths and the White Stripes. And, more particularly, Link moves well beyond the stereotypically assured sexuality of the Doors’ doomed lead singer.
Consider Link’s approach to songs like “Bionic Man” and “I’ll Take You Away,” which simply ask too many questions about how our passions might go wrong – and, as elsewhere, often so with a surprisingly raw, vocal delivery.
With “Bionic Man,” Link builds this driving, post-modern propulsion atop an almost mathematical riff (recalling something out of Steve Howe’s heyday with Yes), before ultimately surging into a yowl that Morrisey would love by the time the chorus arrives. I hear a similar sense of Smiths-influenced scarred vulnerability in “I’ll Take You Away.”
Then there’s “Act 1,” a lilting acoustic-driven interlude that finds Link ruminating on what happens when we lose ourselves too deeply in love. “Photoshop Girlfriend” deals with the flipside of that kind of passion, as Link’s protagonist falls in love with a two-dimensional cut-out figure. “She plays the part, she won’t break my heart,” Link reminds. Similarly, “I’m Crazy” pulls no punches, from its torrent of guitars to its straight-forward lyric: You almost have to be a little off, Link seems to be saying, to fall completely for someone.
He’s too honest, too open hearted, too self-effacing to nail down as a Morrison clone. If all of that doesn’t convince you, cue up “My Love Song.” Twangy and anthematic, this track has a kind of hang-dog sense of self-deprecation that recalls Ringo Starr’s best moments.
Over the course of the project, as Link moves beyond issues of the heart, he also goes well outside of any genre pigeon-hole, too. A galloping, punky groove underscores Link’s essential anger at the distance racism creates in “Color Blind.” “Native Son,” with its gripping, early-Cars power-pop vibe, covers similar topical ground – but this time from the point of view of a people robbed of their homeland. “Jesus Wasn’t Hungry,” with its jangly R.E.M.-ish cadence, takes on the larger issues of an overcrowded, homeless and starved world.
Link continues on, in another intriguing move, to dabble in some jazz-inflected asides: The lone cover song, Merle Travis’ “Sixteen Tons,” transforms the track’s original rambling country-rock feel – as performed by Tennessee Ernie Ford, who took the song to the top of the charts in 1955 – into a moment of loose, riffy balladry. “Swingin’ Christmas” goes even further, adding synthesized horns and strings to a fleet little Yuletide-themed hoot that references legendary figures likes Frank Sinatra and Ella Fitzgerald in an effort to connect with another era of finger-snapping hipsters.
In the end, though, those songs feel like side roads more than heart-of-the-matter elements for Link: Do It in the Name of Love finds its true voice, I think, in moments like the title song. Shambling and loose, it romps along like a late-1970s DIY project – with Link talking rather than singing for much of the track alongside a gnarled guitar and thrillingly sloppy drums. Similarly, the disjointed calypso of “Deserted Sand” is bolstered by a boozy group of background singers, and this frisky, Jack White-inspired guitar interlude.
Elsewhere, “Tin Soldier” has a smart, acoustic-based spaciousness that recalls Lloyd Cole. But then Link has the ability to plug in and tear into a track like “That’s Life.” Not to be confused with the Sinatra hit, it’s a stomping indictment of a cheating partner – delivered with a smart attitude behind a storm of guitars.