The mission of Jonathan Spottiswoode's current band is circumscribed by the name of his last one -- the Zimmermans. If you were unaware that Zimmerman is Bob Dylan's surname by birth, then you probably wouldn't care for the New York outfit run by this floridly romantic Brit. But if you have a taste for the Dylanophile style exemplified by Leonard Cohen, Tom Waits, and Nick Cave, then you might be thrilled to join Spottiswoode's tiny cult.
For starters, the smooth baritone singer once told a writer, "Tom Waits would never do anything in bad taste; Leonard Cohen couldn't be upbeat if he tried; Nick Cave is a prisoner of his own tortured hipness." On his ridiculously ambitious previous album, 2002's Building a Road, re-released this year by High Wire Music, Spottiswoode and his five-piece Enemies tempt bad taste with thick background layers of gospel choruses and New Orleans horns. They kick "upbeat" in the teeth as they burst into bar-brawl breaks and smirk at their own tortured hipness with lyrics like, "Lazarus/He rose from the dead/But I/Can't even pull myself out of bed." Chances are that their cult is small not only because they arrived at their style decades late, but also because their leader, an Ivy League student of "intellectual history," lacks the knack for either storytelling or bon mot carpet-bombing boasted by more celebrated contemporaries like Dan Bern and Clem Snide. Or maybe it's just that Spottiswoode is really as idealistic and cranky as he pretends.