Richard X. Heyman – X

Richard X. Heyman is old. His proper solo career started back in 1978, but he was a busy pop guy even before that. The longtime New Yorker revived his earlier band The Doughboys about a decade ago. Most people expected the act to be ’70s punk pioneers. The group turned out to be legends of the mid-60s Jersey scene who’d once opened for Billy Joel’s early band The Hassles.

The Doughboys have been doing pretty good as a reunited act. They had a new tune named as the Second Coolest Song of 2008 on Little Steven’s radio show. Heyman released a fine solo album called Tiers/And Other Stories in 2011. The double-CD set made it seem like he was conceding most of his rocking to his work behind the drum kit with Doughboys. Instead, now we have Heyman both rocking and wistful on the new X – so named for being his tenth proper album.

It shouldn’t be difficult to maintain quality control with ten solo albums over 35 years. X is still a genuinely exciting affair. The soaring and delicate cuts never come near the wimp-rock of Tiers – which, to be fair, was partly a lusciously wimpy concept album about Heyman’s 26-year marriage to bassist wife Nancy Leigh. (They’ve been an item since 1976.) The softer side of Heyman on X is a lot more soulful, and would be an impressively mature turn for an artist half his age.

X also has some brilliantly hyper moments that ditch power-pop cliches for playful innovation. It’s the album that you’d expect from some kid ready to put an exciting new spin on the genre. In a sense, X is the culmination of Heyman spending his life refusing to be defined by his strongest talents. He’s never made a big deal out of it, but Heyman has a history of refusing to be part of the power-pop underground. Maybe he knew that continually pandering to that scene’s sad fan base wouldn’t have allowed him to make something as consistently perfect as X.

It’s kind of weird to think of X as Heyman’s best album. He’s made a few classics, but you can tell why these songs inspired him to return back to being a one-man band for an entire album. It’s certainly an inspiring moment for a power-pop scene that’s been rocked this year by the suicides of Game Theory/Loud Family leader Scott Miller and Let’s Active bassist Faye Hunter. X is a much-needed example of life-affirming jangle-pop. The closing track of “Will To Go On” couldn’t arrive at a more perfect time. Now can someone go check on Myra Holder? Some of us are worried.

Richard X. Heyman