ALBUM REVIEW: Dan Sartain – Too Tough To Live

Written for DIY

Dan Sartain has been recording and releasing his own brand of rough-edged, lo-fi rockabilly, both by himself and, more recently, with independent label Swami, for nigh on a decade now. Something, dear reader, you may have been unaware of.

Floating just beneath the mainstream radar for the majority of his career, Sartain has managed to poke his head up for air on occasion – 2005’s excellent …vs the Serpientes garnered extensive coverage in the UK music press; in 2008, touring partner and kindred spirit Jack White produced and released a single with Sartain – but never managed to emerge fully and become a household name.

Is this the album that will break Dan Sartain?

Well. Maybe. He probably doesn’t care, based on the attitude being displayed on Too Tough To Live, which pays homage to New York pioneers the Ramones in the album’s title, its sound and in its brevity. Sartain’s usual rock ‘n’ roll has here been roughened further to a much more punky sound.

His lyrics and delivery of such, consequently, have become increasingly sardonic and curt. We should point out here that he is leaning more towards the Paul Westerberg school of punk than Johnny Rotten, more beer-soaked and interesting than career-driven and superficial.

There’s also echoes of two Dead Kennedys: Jello Biafra’s sharp satiric eye watching over songs like “I Wanna Join The Army”, and the distorted, almost surf guitar style of East Bay Ray making an appearance on “I’m Aware”.

Amongst all this three-chord thrash Sartain has managed to keep hold of his firm grasp of melody, each brief snippet of song managing sticks around long enough to lodge itself firmly in your brain, then scarpering before it outstays its welcome. Stand-outs, both song- and title-wise, include “Even At My Worse I’m Better Than You” and “Now Now Now”, the latter of which features Jane Wiedelin of the Go-Gos (and Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure).

Too Tough To Live’s strengths come in both its aforementioned shortness of length and quality of songwriting; in fact, we’re hard pressed to find many weaknesses. In reducing his music to the more base elements and adopting a new style, Sartain has played a risky hand but come up trumps.



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