Label: Hardly Art
Catalog #: 73162
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Dick Stusso is a mess. The third album from everyone’s favorite increasingly unhinged rock phenom is a document of slow, full mental unraveling in a money-chasing saga set with a world in perpetual decay as its backdrop. With S.P., the man behind the Dick Stusso persona (specifically, California-based singer and songwriter Nic Russo, who is doing much better than his fictional counterpart) has created his most out-there and toothsome record to date, plunging his listeners into a world that might seem strange—that is, until they take a look at what’s actually around them too.
S.P. is the first Dick Stusso record in four years, following his stellar Hardly Art debut In Heaven from 2018—but this latest missive is more of an indirect sequel to the buzz-building 2015 release Nashville Dreams / Sings the Blues, diving deeper into Dick Stusso’s crumbling psyche and dystopian surroundings. If our introduction to Dick was someone trying to pursue their dreams and turning into a failure as a result, S.P. reflects the moment where, in Russo’s words, “The character is becoming unlikable. He’s succumbing to what is taking place around him.”
The wild-eyed sounds on S.P.—spanning countrified rock duets, Guided by Voices-recalling anthems, and outro noise-burst sound experiments—are partially owed to the record’s protracted gestational period. Nearly half of its 18 songs were completed before the pandemic, when Russo decided to take a beat and allow the music to sprout new, weird buds in his rehearsal space. “I took my time and let these songs get as strange as they could be,” he explains, and after he completed the self-recording process, boards man and pal Andrew Oswald came in to mix down the record’s unique feel.
The result is a record that bridges the gap between the ultra lo-fi confines of Nashville Dreams and the lush echoes of In Heaven, with a few helping hands to fully flesh out Russo’s vision. In addition to being a “major musical influence” on Russo’s creative process at large, Grace Cooper (The Sandwitches, Grace Sings Sludge) contributes vocals to “Dinner for Two” and “Self Reflection (Deep)”; elsewhere, his father Marc Russo—a Grammy-winning saxophonist and longtime member of the Doobie Brothers—lays down expert horn arrangements on “Garbagedump #1.” “During the pandemic he had more downtime at home. We had talked about doing something collaborative with horns for a while,” Russo explains. “He had the time, and he’s so far out of my caliber as a musician, so it’s very serendipitous that it could happen. He made the song very special.”
“This could be heaven, or it could be hell,” he croons over the song’s barroom sway, and that opening line picks up In Heaven’s titular thread while introducing the uncertainty hovering over S.P. “Things are great, but they’re also awful at the same time,” Russo explains while talking about the overall vibe. The haunted ballad “A Fairly Normal Guy” captures our protagonist listening to music on his phone while feeling “not quite right,” while the deceptively easy going “Dinner For Two” uses darkness to mask a warm, sunny perspective right underneath.
“If we can go out and just eat some good food, maybe we can be happy,” Russo states while talking about the thematic bent of “Dinner For Two,” landing on an unexpectedly optimistic conclusion: “After accepting certain things about the way we’re living, maybe it isn’t so bad in the end.” Surprising, maybe—but S.P. is full of twists and turns like that, further establishing Russo as a fascinating craftsman who’s never bound to do the same thing twice. Would you want it any other way?