When A-list actors embark on recording careers, they’re often on the defensive before the music even comes out. Billy Bob Thornton — who drums and sings in the sorta-okay rockabilly outfit The Boxmasters — has always insisted that his fortune as an actor is “accidental” and that music is his first love, a stance akin to a supermodel saying she was just offered a contract after accompanying a friend to an audition. That kind of success doesn’t happen accidentally; you have to actually want it.
So, it’s refreshing that David Duchovny’s musical debut is such a low-key affair. He makes no false claims of being a musician before he was an actor — in fact, he didn’t even start playing guitar until a few years ago, which coincided with him trying his hand at poetry. His poetry rhymed, songs are supposed to rhyme, bada bing bada boom: He had enough material for an album.
And, to his credit, he knows his way around a meat-and-potatoes chord progression. Opener “Let It Rain” and the more Western Swing-leaning single “Another Year” both have a likable roots rock directness akin to latter-day Wilco and R.E.M., two bands that Duchovny cited as influences while recording. Likewise, closer “Positively Madison Avenue” rolls along with muscle that feels custom-built to soundtrack bar chatter. It thankfully lacks the theatrical pretension found in other actor-fronted bands like, say, 30 Seconds to Mars.
But, as nice as it is to see a 54-year-old celebrity be so humble when picking up an instrument for the first time, Duchovny’s musical greenness shows throughout his debut, especially in the lyrics. The title of the album and its namesake song comes from an overused saying, and the words elsewhere rely on similar cliches as Duchovny makes surface-level observations about war, addiction, social media, and, most of all, crumbling relationships. For his part, he tends to blame himself for his well publicized romantic failings, but that doesn’t make phrases like “You can’t hurt the one you already left behind” and “If it’s multiple choice, I gotta mark ‘none of the above'” any less robotic. And when he tries to venture into more poetic, image-driven territory, it just comes out purple: “Cowgirl gaze and a sailor’s mouth” or “I can’t turn this shit-storm right into some rainbow sun-shower of holy red wine.”
There’s also his voice, which, while serviceable, doesn’t have much of an identity yet — more a smoother Leonard Cohen than any kind of unique personality. It’s no coincidence that he name-checks the singer-songwriter in “Positively Madison Avenue” and, earlier on, The Beatles in “3000”. You have to emulate before you can innovate, and as Duchovny continues to hone his musical chops, perhaps he’ll transform the sounds of his heroes into something that’s distinctly his own.
Essential Tracks: “Let It Rain”, “Positively Madison Avenue”