Published Mar 25, 2020The mark of a good cowboy, ostensibly, is mystery. There must be intrigue and quietude, a sense of danger, of brushing against the unknown. Texas Wayne is the latest addition to the enigmatic Canadian cowboy canon, a shadowy heartbreaker out of Montreal.
Let's just get the Orville Peck comparisons out of the way now — much like Peck, Wayne's persona is at least partially an act of theatre, with an affected Johnny Cash croon and stylized retro cowboy fashion. However, unlike Peck, Wayne's mystery is not derived from a face-obscuring mask, but a beguiling lack of internet presence. You'll be hard-pressed to find much about him anywhere, besides his highly curated, heavily followed Instagram account.
He's surely a mystery — does his Southern twang mean he's a Texan transplant or a committed character actor? Does it matter? The Gun of Love doesn't necessarily provide many satisfying answers. The record plays with the same vaguely punk-influenced country that Peck's Pony delighted in; broad, shambolic riffs and a knack for hooks that are familiar, but not necessarily memorable. This is music that taps into a particular cultural mood and aesthetic — it's appealing for what it signifies and references, not necessarily for what it is.
That's not to say the record is bad. The Gun of Love sounds perfectly good, and it's going to appeal to those who've been left with an Orville Peck-shaped hole to fill. It makes reference to rodeos, horses and cowgirls, to bullets, standoffs, small towns and steeds. There are whistles and yee-haws and lots of open-desert echo.
What it doesn't have is a distinct sense of personality or meaning — there may be significant personal narratives tied to these songs, but they're so on the nose in their cowboy characterization that you'd never know it. Listening is the equivalent of watching an old spaghetti western — it's fun and nostalgic, romantic and a little goofy, but it also feels a tad undercooked.
Personas are good tools to say something that can't be said otherwise, to explore uncharted territory through a new lens; a persona crafted entirely from aesthetic signifiers and little else can't help but feel shallow and derivative. Orville Peck is an exciting and relatively unprecedented pop-culture figure; it'll be a shame if his biggest cultural legacy is an endless series of faceless cowboys. (Independent)