I know what you're thinking: Did Tim Robbins make an album just to try and win Susan Sarandon back? Judging by the just-released Tim Robbins and the Rogues Gallery Band, the answer is yes.
Sarandon's answer to Robbins, judged by the same standard, should be "No thanks, honey."
Now 52 and single for the first time since 1988, Robbins' debut album seems more like a Match.com profile put to music. Robbins is a good man, he wants you to know; he is passionate about life and love and the tender touch of a woman, he also wants you to know; he is waiting for you to awaken that passion, because he is just an ordinary songwritin' guy and not a big-name actor from The Shawshank Redemption and Mystic River.
He's a great actor, writer and director. But this record is nothing special.
Robbins has written songs before, just not such personal ones. In the great 1992 mockumentary Bob Roberts, which Robbins also wrote and directed, Robbins plays a conservative politician who uses country music to rile his base. The faux anthems are brilliant, predating both the Onion and Flight of the Conchords, but Robbins wouldn't allow an official soundtrack to be released lest the songs be used out of context.
Some might express surprise that Robbins was able to put together a band so quickly for Rogues Gallery Band, but in reality, he simply called Hal Willner. A behind-the-scenes musical alumnus of Saturday Night Live and producer of numerous tribute albums to the likes of Kurt Weill, Thelonious Monk and the music of Disney, Willner is the go-to guy for projects like this—if T. Bone Burnett won't return your calls, that is.
Willner says he hopped on board after Robbins gave him some demos. "It's all about the songs," Willner testifies, "and the songs were there."
So why, then, did the songs get buried? Robbins has a recurring problem on this album enunciating lyrics, which is unusual for a classically trained actor, but maybe not so unusual for a classically trained actor playing the role of a bar singer. Likewise, the band is roughshod. "Time to Kill" sounds like Robbins singing over a Captain Beefheart demo, and the drummer often plays in the same forced-wrong style. Elsewhere, the pianist, at the end of "Toledo Girl," hits some sour, we're-just-playin'-what-we-feel notes.
But mostly, with songs like "Queen of my Dreams" and "Crush on You," Robbins is playing the hopeless romantic with his heart sweating wildly on his sleeve, teaming up with the "Gypsies and troubadours," in his words. Or, "slumming it," in mine.
Robbins may never make another movie as great as Dead Man Walking, but he certainly has room for improvement in the musical arena. As he describes the record: "I was thinking of actually calling it The Midlife Crisis Album."