A Dualistic Graham Parker, a Soulful Miki Howard : GRAHAM PARKER “Human Soul.” MCA ***: <i> Albums are rated on a scale of one star (poor) to five (a classic).</i>
“When I get mad I’m really a drag,” sings Parker by way of introducing his latest, contradicting the wisdom of die-hard fans who like him good ‘n’ angry. He goes on to quote his patient love: “Lighten up, fella,” she tells him repeatedly in the chorus of the opening “Little Miss Understanding,” and indeed, Parker spends most of the album’s first side in the same sort of tight-lipped, R&B-tinged; mode that characterized most of his early- and mid-'80s output, being buoyed by the love of a woman who has wrought peaceful havoc with the work of a once perfectly bitter artist.
A visit to his local mall in the humbly self-deprecating “Big Man on Paper” inspires a few broadsides on popular culture (“Look at the youth in their Whitesnake T-shirts / They’re wearing a poor man’s version of the haircut / Man they might as well be from another universe,” he sings, more alienated from rock fashion than ever). But mostly, he admits, “The bills on my table / Or my kid’s first Halloween disguise” keep him from getting too worked up over the sorts of things that once would have had him spitting vitriol instead of playing the skanking family man.
But wait, what’s this? Side 2? The “surreal side,” an almost nonstop song suite with a harder edge in which narrator Graham sleepwalks through the bemusing, confusing waking dream that is the news of the world outside his domestic tranquility? By dividing this album into neat halves, Parker finally gets to have it both ways--lover and fighter; relaxed, settled-down soulster and Angry Aging Man. The production could stand to be sharper and the songs are uneven, but in scope, ambition and self-integration, he’s closed out the ‘80s with what is at least his most interesting album of the decade.