Joey Cape - Let Me Know When You Give Up (Cover Artwork)

Joey Cape

Let Me Know When You Give Up (2019)

fat wreck chords

Lagwagon’s Joey Cape has been making music consistently for 30 years now. That’s a long time. He’s released records with Lagwagon, Me First and the Gimme Gimmes, Joey Cape’s Bad Loud, Bad Astronaut and of course under his own name. All told, it’s over 20 albums plus myriad EP’s, compilations, etc. He’s been both prolific and consistent for the most part. His solo work, maybe somewhat surprisingly, only appeared first (officially) in 2008 with Bridge. Surprising, because as Cape himself points out, most of his music begins its life on an acoustic guitar and he’s always enjoyed hearing full band songs stripped down as well.

Which gives an interesting counterpoint to one of the aspects of this record that I’m most impressed with, And that’s the diversity of instrumentation, songwriting and styles on display in Cape’s latest ‘solo’ effort. Solo warrants inverted commas in this case, as there are many tracks here that feel more akin to full production versions of campfire songs, complete with organs, multiple guitar tracks, keyboards, lap steels and varied backing and guest vocalists. The title track and album opener almost lulls you into the immediate belief that we’re in traditional acoustic, singer/songwriter territory with a beautifully-picked intro, accompanied by Cape’s distinctive and slightly mournful lyrics (“I won’t lie to you / it does seem hopeless / I’m losing focus”) until just past the 2-minute mark, when he’s joined by drums, percussion, bass and guitar and the song takes an overtly optimistic turn. The final act of the song evokes both strength and vulnerability in equal measures, aided by a more prominent string section in the last minute or so. It’s a strong start and one that gives an indication of what you can expect over the album’s 40 minutes or so.

It would almost be necessary to do a song-by-song to give you a real idea of the scope of what is on offer here, which I’m not going to do for a number of reasons. Not least of all because it might rob you of the enjoyment of unpacking this selection box of an album. Just a few examples of the range: “Possession” sounds like it was recorded in a smoky Mexican bar, with Cape not a million miles away from Mark Lanagan at times. “Fighting Atrophy” has shades of a lo-fi Lagwagon song, being pacey and primarily electric-guitar based (it’s also fantastic) and “I Know How To Run” sounds like a ragged, folk punk sea shanty. There are also a surprising amount of guitar solos throughout the record (including a dual one in “Fighting Atrophy”, believe it or not) but more often than not, when they do arrive, they’re languorous, considered and drenched in fuzz, enriching the songs they’re accompanying beautifully.

Ultimately, Cape just has such a well-developed and yet intuitive grasp of songwriting at this point, that the quality and deployment of every constituent aspect of this record is incredibly high throughout. Another thing that’s important yet not easily-achieved when it comes to solo projects of this nature, is that outside of Cape’s trademark vocal/cadence, the record absolutely retains its own identity whilst still exploring expansively within that framework.

It’s always a good sign when I can’t decide on my favourite track on an album and I’ve changed my mind at least once a day for the last week or so with this. If you’re a fan of Joey Cape (and why wouldn’t you be), then there’s a lot to enjoy here. Let Me Know When You Give Up is the sound of a man completely at home in the role of musician and raconteur, but still exploring new boundaries in his art. It really is very good indeed.