Musical miscreant Mark Bragg sets out to make smooth jazz as bawdy, absurd, and rocking as he can on his new album. Your Kiss is the third release by the St. John’s musician, an LP that is so superficially wacky that it packs a wallop of a punch once you are made aware of the subtle sincerity behind each tongue-in-cheek lyric or jarringly dissonant note.
Bragg wastes no time setting up his own beautiful dark twisted fantasy. The disc opens with the titular track, “Your Kiss,” where he dramatically announces, over an organ intro, that he’d skip out on bowling night and “swallow the Bazooka Joe” to lock lips with his object of desire – but watch out, because this ain’t no innocent ditty for serenading. There’s something dark and sexual going on just below the surface, and those minor chords and Doors-like organ tricks don’t exactly change that opinion.
By the time you move on to the next tune, “Your Boys Home,” you’re enthralled, sceptical, and more than a little bit scared as hell. The song, all about latent childhood abuse that’s mounted into a purely insane reunion between a mother and her son, is deliciously disturbing.
Your Kiss is a jazzy blues album that’s been taken under the apprenticeship of rock ’n’ roll. There are swinging horns and piano solos, but there’s also an unrefined energy permeating throughout the songs. Bragg projects himself almost maniacally as an over-the-top entertainer – which can be overwhelming at more than one instance – but he also shows that he’s capable of holding back when he needs to. Point in case is “The Cutter,” one of the most straightforward, stylish rock songs on the album (even if he refuses to be completely conventional in his lyrics: “I’m a fat kid, and you’re so edible now”). That song leads right into the album’s middle track, “The Fool,” which is a subdued, emotional slow dance – and by this point, it’s just as surprising as anything else on Your Kiss.
The album closes with the funky, soulful “Rats,” a song where Bragg professes, “I wanna hear your little bits snap and your big bits crunch / Gonna have you for supper, then have your wife for dessert / You know I want it to hurt, cause I’m a pervert.” Huh? By this point, you’re not fully sure what just happened during the last half hour, and can’t decide if the rocker is delusional or simply making fun of you. It’s a music maelstrom that doesn’t try to be coy in its style or lyrics, an honesty that doesn’t seem to jive with the quirky arrangements or exaggerated vocal presentation.
It’s fist-pumping, dance-all-night beats that somehow manage to blend sophistication, exaltation, and the desire to take a long, hot shower immediately afterwards.