How long can one man remain angry? Ask Graham Parker, and he'd likely tell you just as long as life keeps pissing him off. Career malcontent Parker has always viewed rock & roll as protest, though his targets were politically incorrect before the awful phrase was invented. When he and the Rumour were making some of the smartest and hardest swinging records of Britain's late '70s pub-rock scene, Parker obsessively challenged his audience, taking on abortion and faddish radicalism -- and then questioned his own cynicism for good measure. If he never betrayed his working-class roots, he has never romanticized class struggle. He knows how dark his own heart can be.
His newest record, Your Country, with its lap steel and Lucinda Williams cameo, is only a slightly sharper country turn than Blood on the Tracks or even other acoustic-based Parker efforts such as Mona Lisa's Sister or 12 Haunted Episodes. But rather than blunting Parker's ire, the twangy sweetness gets his splenetic juices flowing. On "Nation of Shop Keepers," he pits a slow-mo "Sweet Jane" groove against newfangled British liberals and their supposed ties to everyday classes of "turf accountants and book keepers," but like everyone, including the singer, their eye is on the till. The royalty of "Queen of Compromise" could be a duplicitous lover or the monarchy itself; the wandering standup comic of "Anything for a Laugh" could just as well be a journeyman singer-songwriter as a political pundit; and the poisonous pageant of a small-town carnival might be an allegory for American desperation or the death throes of cultural nostalgia itself. Parker's satires cut every which way -- at their best no one, least of all their author, is left unscathed.