Reviewed by Evangeline Jennings
Forgive me for I am about to embark on an extended musical metaphor.
I don’t think Hazard Pay is Melissa Simonson’s second book, but it does read like her awkward second album. There’s plenty of good stuff here but it kinda feels thrown together. Perhaps hurried out to catch a wave in the market. And although there are moments that hit home with the punchy adrenaline of the early impressive singles, there are also some odd tracks here that suggest experimentation or lazy afternoons in the studio. Here a piano. There a little static whiteboy reggae. And doesn’t that guitar sound a little out of tune?
As we like to say.
Hazard Pay throws most of the right moves. Girl. Gun. Personal Tragedy. Unlikely White Knight. Revenge. And has enough going for it to make you read to the end. Yet it never entirely hits its stride, seems a little off-balance from the moment a second POV is introduced, and the big closing number is more of a rushed miscalculation than the promised epic grand finale.
When the Clash released their awkward second album, Give ‘Em Enough Rope, their many apologists blamed producer Sandy Pearlman. Best known for working with the very non-punk Blue Oyster Cult – although he also produced a clutch of punk/metal crossover masterpieces for the Dictators – Pearlman was an easy target. But the truth was the Clash didn’t have the material for a second album and had no clue how to finish the half-songs they did have. Pearlman probably saved the day and helped to set the style for such similarly unfinished songs as “Clampdown” and beyond.
Where Hazard Pay differs from Give ‘Em Enough Rope is Melissa Simonson didn’t have Sandy Pearlman – or any other technician – to smooth out the bumps and polish the flaws. And as a result, Hazard Pay is rough, raw, and halfway unfinished – like a road. Like Give ‘Em Enough Rope, it’s good enough but it could and should have been better.