Bill Callahan- Apocalypse


Callahan begins his work with the words “the real people went away”. Then the guitar chords kick in as we enter his world. He spends pensive songs creating scenarios of cattle droving, watching TV and saying goodbye as mediums for deep reflection. Indeed the album itself runs like a season of episodes, describing a man’s journey and return into the wilderness. The opener “Drover” is the pilot the grips you in its driving intensity and the blood-tingling chorus of “One thing about this wild, wild country…” and allows way for slower songs such as “Baby’s Breath” and “Free’s”. The album’s high point is “Riding For the Feeling”, which describes a speaker’s pain and consolation of farewells. It is the fix that Callahan admirers need: that endless repetition of one line, in this case the song title, which encapsulates an emotion and embeds itself in your head. Then comes the long finale of “One Fine Morning”, describing a story finishing, as he sings “No more drovering”, but also full of expectation as the speaker rides out to a new adventure.

The album marks a significant change from his previous work Sometimes I Wish We were an Eagle, which, though consoling, was weighed with recent grief. In fact, Apocalypse seems to mark that moment when all the grief is past and a sense of freedom ensues. Indeed this is no better expressed than in Callahan’s cheery whistling and the tooting of the jazz flute of his song “Free’s”. Then why such a bleak album name as Apocalypse? Perhaps it relates to the revitalized energy that Callahan releases after 21 years in the music business. The backing instrumentation equally support this with pockets of explosive guitar noises and weeping violins. Indeed the songs possess a conviction that may come at the brink of an apocalyptic final judgement. There is no hesitation in the hero of the songs. He is aware of his imperfection yet sure of his ideals. Besides who would have the confidence to write a song entitled “America!” (exclamation mark included) and then conscript their musical heroes “Captain Kristofferson…Sergeant Cash”, not to mention putting Kris Kristofferson at a higher rank than Johnny Cash.

Perhaps Apocalypse relates to Callahan coming to terms with his ageing. It must affect most forty year olds that the mid-life crisis is near or even happening, and it may seem like the end of the world. However, Callahan appears to have weathered this storm and come out with a new youthful vitality as well as the wisdom of experience. So when he says “My apocalypse” in the closing song, Callahan sounds like he is cherishing it, as if it were something tamed but also achieved. And one can only assume that his last words on the album are “Chicago for 5–0” means that he’s looking ahead to a new city, a new age, and hopefully some new music as well.


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