(Editor’s Note: There are times when a review calls for a special writer with a unique perspective. When it comes to the latest album by Kiefer Sutherland, it seemed almost obvious that I look to my town’s very own Jack Bauer. I offered him up this mission and like the iconic character, he delivered).
By Daniel Sumlin
Though I like to think that my tastes in music are uniquely eclectic, country music has never resonated with me. However, Kiefer Sutherland’s Jack Bauer character has always fascinated me. When I randomly encountered him in my hometown on his recent tour, I considered myself lucky to meet the man behind the legend. As he spoke to me of his fondness for the South (my native state Texas in particular) in such a friendly and relaxed manner, I knew that I was speaking to an amazing actor. I was speaking to one of the most relaxed individuals I’d ever encountered. Facing that dichotomy, I needed to know more.
As we spoke, I learned that his true passion is his music. Being a musician, I can understand. It is often the truest form of catharsis. Following a script as an actor forces one to inhabit a persona that they didn’t create. The authenticity of such a performance can only go as far as the market will bear. Performing the music of one’s own craft, however, allows unfettered expression of one’s truest self.
With that in mind, I began tracking Sutherland’s tour, as well as his comments regarding his music. He states that his new album Down In A Hole is “the closest thing I’ve ever had to a journal or diary.” My suspicions were confirmed. He was finally expressing his truest self. The best album any of us can hope to hear is one that is a free expression of an artist’s soul. That’s the lens through which I chose to examine this album.
As I listened, I learned a surprising truth. Sutherland has been through many of the greatest sorrows that we all know. The theme of this album is loneliness. How can someone constantly surrounded by so many adoring fans feel alone? Because he is just like the rest of us. The only difference is that he fearlessly expresses what most of us will never say: the mere company of a crowd, the presence of admirers, isn’t enough to fill the need for a true or intimate bond with another.
I Can’t Stay Away
We recognize the ease with which the temptation of companionship can manipulate us. Even when we know that a relationship has no hope, we want to give it a chance. The desire to be free from our loneliness makes us willfully foolish. The illusion of a solution binds us. We simply can’t let go of what we wish were a possibility. The bass riff provides a solid support for the rhythm. It makes you tap your feet and nod your head up and down as you take a deep sigh.
Truth in Your Eyes
This piece speaks to the regret that comes from failing to express our true feelings until it’s too late. When we feel that we missed our one chance at love, even though we knew it would never be reciprocated, we can’t forget it. Even having known that the loss was inevitable, it will always be regrettable. Though we’d like to forget it, we want to ensure that the object of our love won’t. The certainty of the loss lends solidarity to the instrumental tone. The electric riff is so sharp that the bass and drums are merely accents. The guitar solo at the end is so effective that it leaves us wishing it were longer.
I’ll Do Anything
We all know what this revelation feels like: that moment when we realize that the one we’ve been craving has always been with us. They’ve been with us for so long, because we’ve always wanted them with us. Why have we kept them as a friend so long? Because we’re in love with them. We just never knew it. Now that we’re honest with ourselves, we’ll stop at nothing to make this relationship something more. The song has a very full sound, the electric keeping our attention, though it stays deftly in the background.
Not Enough Whiskey
We all want to forget failed love, though it’s just wishful thinking. Alcohol is often the best tonic. We’d like our love to share our drunken state with us. The definitive loss of our love leaves us hopeless, once we recognize that it can’t be recovered. Along with the alcohol, we try to cope by talking to ourselves, hoping to find a statement that will comfort us. The tone of the steel guitar gives it a classic country feel.
The guitar riffs remind us of that place where we’ve made that final choice to move on. It’s over and done with, and we’re done trying to pretend otherwise. We know that we’re the only one left to rely on. Why bother with posturing? When we know that we’re truly alone, every attempt to pretend otherwise is exhausting. It’s time to move forward on our own. The clarity of that decision makes the sound so much more solid and declarative. The guitar solo is so uniquely energetic…not joyous, but not melancholy…just enthusiastically content.
Calling Out Your Name
The use of the keyboard adds to the minimalist tone. Love that just left without warning, a simple disappearing act. There’s no chance for closure. It leaves us lost and confused. The acoustic work drifts softly down, supporting the theme of disappointment. Not knowing what ended this relationship, we keep searching for our lost love, needing that closure. We know, though, that it’s a fruitless endeavor. Even so, it must be pursued. The smooth but inactive steel guitar mirrors the way we are left motionless, not knowing where to go or what to do. The full vocal backup supports the fact that this experience isn’t just our own. It’s the human experience.
My Best Friend
The acoustic is so clean and clear that it’s exceptional. Fitting, as the song is about an exception to the rule. The greater exception is the one within us: the ability to walk cleanly away from the pain, and to move on. Onward and upward. The one truth that always gets us there is the realization that we are the one person whom we can truly rely on. The sharper electric that joins the sound confirms the clarity of that realization. The dissonant sound comes when the lyrics offer our support to something as uncertain as another upon whom we cannot truly rely. The guitar solo is comforting…it’s what we’d listen to as we drive away from the past, windows rolled down as we finally feel free.
The sound is classic country. The lyrics fit the same mold. A simple remembrance of something that was good, yet no feeling of regret over its loss. Just a simple and comfortable reference to young love and carrying on.
All She Wrote
Angst can be felt in the dissonant electric opening the song. It’s time to teach someone a lesson, even though they won’t listen. It’s time to let that angst out. Time for us to vent, even though it’s only for our own sake. Our love needs to know that they missed their best chance when they lost us, whether they want to believe it or not.
Down in a Hole
There’s a sharp, attention grabbing opening with the electric. Many of us know the confidence that comes with drunken anger. In that place, we all believe we know exactly what we’re talking about. If we’re fed up with a potential lover, we let the bottle give us the strength to let it all out. The guitar solo midway through the piece is all over the place, rambling along, alluding to that drunken confusion after we finally laid it all out there. Then with the later solo, we’ve reached that middle ground. We try to recover from the wandering mind by coming back to the certainty of thoughts like, “No, I definitely said it right.”
The opening solo tells us that this is about a relaxed and comfortable acceptance. We know that we’re running out of time, and we’ve come to terms with it. Our emotions have worn us out, and we’re just waiting patiently for the end. All the instruments carry that peaceful comfort through the midst of a sound that almost seems melancholic, but doesn’t go all the way down that path.
As I listen to Down In A Hole, the most striking element is the truth of it. It’s true to its author(s), true to the human condition, and most notably true to itself. In every song, the instrumental and vocal tones are perfectly in sync with the lyrical themes. There is no forgery for the sake of profit here. There is no sacrificing the art for the sake of popularity. This album will most definitely be popular, however. Why? Because it brings to the listener exactly what it brings to Kiefer Sutherland: a cathartic reprieve from our feelings of isolation.
You can order Down In A Hole by Kiefer Sutherland now on iTunes.