March 1999

Chris Isaak - Speak of the Devil
Reprise CDW 46849
Released: 1998
HDCD encoded

by Doug Schneider

Musical Performance ***1/2
Recording Quality ***1/2
Overall Enjoyment **1/2

[Reviewed on CD]The brooding voice, the impressive vocal range and the fine musicianship is all here, but Speak of the Devil commits the worst of musical sins -- it's boring. Worse yet, Chris Isaak actually sings like he's bored. There's not much to criticize here directly, but there's also not much to praise either. Nothing stands out. Despite all new songs, Speak of the Devil comes across as either a compilation or a "best of" disc. It's the kind of music that you feel you've heard before, and we likely have on all of Isaak's previous collections.

"Please," the opening track, is melodic, tight, tuneful and could have shown up on Baja Sessions, Forever Blue or San Francisco Days. Same goes for "Flying" and just about all of the 14 tracks. "'Breaking Apart" and "Don't Get So Down On Yourself" are my favorites here and warranted a number of replays. Still, they don't actually sound fresh.

Looking back, Speak of the Devil is not the first of Isaak's albums to commit this sin. Most listeners picked up on Isaak following the huge success of the "Wicked Games" single that, long after its release, shot Heart Shaped World up with it. (Incidentally, it was David Lynch's inclusion of the song on the Wild At Heart soundtrack that got it noticed.) Subsequently, Isaak's previous albums, the self-titled Chris Isaak and Silvertone, were unearthered pleasures rather than new discoveries. Fans, in very rapid succession, had access to three very good Isaak discs.

His ensuing releases, however, have rarely shown the same success. Other than moments of brilliance through a few singles, San Francisco Days started to sound a little stale. Forever Blue, his earnest follow-up, actually picked up the pace and is my favorite of Isaak's collections. It's memorable for its sly wit, guy-just-got-dumped stance, and very good songwriting and musicianship. Baja Sessions slid again, but it passed the grade with a lighter, popier feel amidst a Latin flavor. Still, with few exceptions, the songs themselves hardly sounded new.

Speak of the Devil is a tough one to recommend, but also tough to completely dismiss because it will have its audience. I would recommend it for die-hard Isaak fans who simply need to hear everything he releases; that's why I bought it. It's also good for those not yet familiar with Isaak's work. However, if you don't already have Isaak's previous discs and want to dig a little deeper into what he's about, I would recommend looking to Forever Blue or one of his initial releases for something a little more interesting.