Lee Hazlewood - Cake or Death

Cam 03/12/2006

Rating: 4/5

It's almost tacit to link Lee Hazlewood's name with the "legendary songwriter" tag. But on a personal observation, I think he transcends every tag ever made for a musician, he is just Lee, and superlatives will always be short for him. On that note, and with the pedestal polished, let's keep praising the man, whose latest (and probably last) album is gracing the shops from December 4.

So tell us oh mighty Lee, what's with the title?

"That comes from Eddie Izzard. Americans just do not understand him at all. That doesn't make a difference; I think he's the funniest son of a bitch I've ever seen and, of course, this part had to do with the Inquisition. He said: 'In England, it would have been "cake or death?.
"Do you want cake or death?" '"Cake." '"And you?" '"Cake." '"And you, cake or death?" '"Death. Oh, I meant cake!" '"Oh, well, alright, here's some cake."'
It's just so stupid and I love it and he gave permission. "

Yes, he is the man who was there right at the birth of Rock 'n' Roll.
Yes, he is the man who wrote most of Nancy Sinatra's hits.
Yes, he is the one who inspired a legion of fellow musicians, most notably Jarvis Cocker, Richard Hawley, Stuart Murdoch and Nick Cave.

But on "Cake or Death", Lee chooses not to stage a self-indulgent grand finale packed with special guests. Instead, he assembles a cast of musicians with whom he has previously worked, promised to work, or wanted to work with. He even gives lifelong friend Tommy Parsons a full song on the album ("She's Gonna Break Some Heart): "he literally saved my life some time ago", says Lee "so this is a promise given and a promise kept".

All the classical Hazlewood pop melodies are present on tracks like "Nothing", "Sacrifice" and "It's Nothing To Me", which include his infallible male/female duets. "Baghdad Knights", "White People Thing" and "Anthem" are the album's political songs, a perfect example of Lee's typically direct lyrics accompanied by his trademark kind of orchestration. And there's even enough space for two old Lee & Nancy classics: "Boots" is painted black with a ghoulish guitar sound and "Some Velvet Morning" is turned into a moving story featuring Lee's grand daughter, Phaedra.

If, by this point of the record you are not going to buy another pack of Kleenex, then wait for the last track...

T.O.M. (The Old Man) has to be one of a kind, after all, how many pop musicians have had the satisfaction of knowing when they're writing their own very last song?

"In this place called forever
will there be any songs left to sing?"

Now, sadly, I don't have the answer to that question, but what I do know is that Death or Cake is a record that sounds like the last work of an accomplished, happy man.