The title of the sixth album from Californian singer-songwriter Nick Waterhouse is more than just the name of one of its tracks. The Fooler is both a clue and a red herring. The Fooler is the observed and the observer, narrator and subject, truth and lie. The Fooler is the shadow and reflection of a city the artist knows sufficiently well to wander with his eyes closed, and a place which very possibly never even existed. The Fooler is not so much an unreliable narrator as a constantly shifting perspective.
The Fooler is the new album by Nick Waterhouse, and it’s a lot. Recorded by Mark Neill (Black Keys; Los Straightjackets; Dave Cobb) in Valdosta, Georgia, it’s a song-cycle of sorts, the arc of the album telling a tale of a city and its denizens. “Many of the stories come from a feeling of plasticity,” says Waterhouse. “What is memory? What is time? What is love between two human beings like in this imaginary city? A phase shift occurred writing this record. I had a breakthrough in how to tell stories in songs, like an epiphany. I started realising how I could bend time in a lot of the things that weave through the record. I have a perspective as a narrator now, instead of being the occupant of the songs.”
Waterhouse released his debut album, Time’s All Gone, in 2012. His last record, Promenade Blue, came out in 2021. In his music you will hear echoes of things you might think you know, or believe you remember, filtered through the lens of a unique artistic perspective. You will hear rhythm and blues, garage rock, radio soul and wee-small-hours balladry – but reconfigured, made new. In Waterhouse’s music, the time is both now and then. The past is the present is the future. The sound is classic yet unclassifiable.
The Fooler was produced by Neill in his Soil of the South studio in Valdosta, Georgia. A former room in a ballet school, Soil of the South is in the great tradition of American studios such as Chess and Sun. “Not the place that looks like a spaceship, more like the place that looks like a dentist office in 1965,” says Waterhouse. They tracked the album fast near the end of 2021. A further handful of days for overdubs and mixing early in 2022 and it was finished. “Making this record was like going to see the kung fu master on the mountain,” says Waterhouse. “You can probably draw a through line from my first record to this one, but this is something else entirely. The sonic landscape Mark designed is so much further into space, with reverb and depth.”
The result is a record that offers up new riches and fresh perspectives with every spin. From the hidden corners of ‘Hide & Seek’ and the roadhouse soul of ‘Play To Win’ to the primitive, attitudinal, chugging two-chord thrill of ‘Late In The Garden’, it builds inexorably to the drama of the title track and pulsing roll-and-rock of the final pay off, ‘Unreal, Immaterial’. Play it once and it sounds immediately like a collection of great songs. Play it again – and you will – and it feels like a novel or film slowly unveiling its secrets, kaleidoscopic in its narrative complexity. “Especially during this record, I started just becoming what Allen Ginsberg called a pure breath,” says the artist. “I was becoming pure breath with my ideas.”