It’s always a good time for August Darnell, a.k.a. Kid Creole, to resurface with new material, but 2011 is especially auspicious. There are obvious reasons for that: a decade’s worth of increasingly high-profile tributes to the downtown NYC that Darnell embodied in so many ways, not to mention that his multi-hued, stylistically promiscuous sensibility is now ever-more-mutably available to anyone with a connection and the inclination.
I Wake Up Screaming (few in pop are better at titles than Darnell) also arrives at a boom for both comedy and theater, two areas in which Darnell excels. The Kid Creole discography (Screaming is his 12th album in 31 years) is stuffed with site-specifically imagistic songs about the mutual loathing of races and nations, and this one’s full of ‘em, too. As for comedy, look no further than “I Wake Up Screaming (In the Tropics),” in which the narrator demands, “Why you don’t wan’ get with me/ Do you think I got leprosy?/ Why you no wan’ boom-boom-boom/ Do you think I’m a Looney Tune?” The “you” has apparently boondoggled our rich-fool narrator into giving her a free vacation.
But there’s tenderness here, too, right at the top. “Stony and Cory” is Darnell telling the romance of Stony Browder and Cory Daye, partners in his first group, the transformative disco orchestra Dr. Buzzard’s Original Savannah Band. Ripe, Caribbean-inflected guitars and watercolor strings make it seem older and more intimate than the stomping house beat it begins with. But this is memoir, and Darnell’s words always grab: “I’ve got no reason to be fabricatin’, overtstatin’… I’ll tell it from the start/ It’s guaranteed to break your heart.”
Everything between them, he tells us, was totally real: “There was never any simulatin’, vascillatin’/ Their love was always full of adoration, animation.” It’s the song’s conclusion that really resonates, though: “And all the music, it was old, old, old/ And I’m so grateful for it all, all, all/ There’s no right without a wrong/ And there’s no rise without a fall.” Slot “Stony and Cory” alongside Paul Simon’s So Beautiful or So What and the documentary Bill Cunningham: New York as further proof of 2011 as a heck of a year for old men.