You may not know JULES SHEAR by name but there’s a good chance you know him by some of his songwriting credits. Despite having such a unique voice – and some pretty peculiar thoughts dressed up as lyrics – he’s penned hit songs for people like Cyndi Lauper, the Bangles and many others. Maybe he writes with specific people in mind? Or maybe they just pick the songs with more of a “universal” feel? Regardless, in the case of Slower, his latest solo album, the songs are definitely his to sing and the arrangements make that plain to hear.
I got into Shear in the late ’70s when he fronted the major-label-signed L.A. band Jules & The Polar Bears. Then as now, his voice was one that made you think you were listening to a boy singing a man’s lyrics. That new wave outfit surrounded his quirky (I hate that word but it’s the right one here) songs with equally off-kilter arrangements that were very much of the moment. From there Jules Shear went on to form a band called Reckless Sleepers and a solo career that went a long way to emphasizing his increasingly more mature lyrics. To tell the truth (something I usually try to do) I haven’t followed Shear’s career since the mid ’80s but was certainly aware of, for instance, Bangles’ version of “If She Knew What She Wants,” a song that signaled Jules’ new tools in the songwriting department. Circle around to today and Slower is a nice album to listen to. It’s certainly lighter than my usual fare but each listen brings out a new thought or twist-of-phrase, like the ones contained in the lyrics and title of “Between Hell and Hello” or “I used to think no one could catch me / But now I’m slower” from the title track. With arrangements veering between pop-lite and Sinatra-esque – courtesy mostly of piano by Pepe, with some additional help from bassist Sara Lee, (the) John Sebastian on guitar, autoharp and harmonica, and assorted others on the rest – Slower is Jules Shear at a much more mellow, measured gait.
If you’re hoping for the energy level that accompanied Jules and his Polar Bears, you may as well grab one of those records to put on. But if you’re cool with Shear’s cooler, calmer 21st Century vibe then Slower may just suit you fine. – Marsh Gooch
3/5 (Funzalo FNZ1120, 2020)