Review: Terrence Parker - Life on the Back 9


What are the privileges of being a musical legend? Among other things, you can name your record after a golf story.

Download the track 'Saved Forever' for free on Rolling Stone.

Detroit House luminary Terrence Parker did just this on "Life On The Back 9," a hefty new release on the Planet E label. The title recalls an anecdote told to the artist by his father. Mr. Parker (senior) advised his son to hang on for the long game, to have faith, because things often come right in the end. As such, the “Back 9” of the golf course stands for life's second act—and, more broadly, for remixes, revivals, and new chances. It's an apt title for an album that meditates on a 30-year career at the centre of a genre.

Heads love Parker because of his role in the history of a scene, and because of his skilled, highly innovative turntable technique. For obvious reasons, the latter doesn't translate onto a record of original tracks. Which leaves us with only the former—and with the question of what we should expect of living legends.

In the case of Parker, and his fans, existing seems to be the most important thing he can do. He is an artifact. And as such, his authenticity is the biggest part of the story. The sentimentality that electronic music fans feel about such people seems to be in proportion with the shortness of their history as a community. The word "soul" is thrown about, a lot, to describe this experience. His blackness, his Detroit-ness, and his Pentecostalism, all seem to be crucial essences. His use of a 20-year-old telephone handset instead of headphones is, likewise, a small but important symbolic touch.

It's no surprise, then, that this album breaks little new ground. The songs have a somewhat shopworn feel. It is not a greatest hits collection, and at the same time, it does not offer much that is relevant to the sort of music that is being produced currently. Nor do the religious themes of Parker's Inspirational House movement help much, musically. His record is Inspired, but not really inspired. Many of America's Christian songs have been its most searching, its most strange and tender, and poetic. But Parker's overtly churchy tracks—like "GOD He is"—are not. They tend to be blunt dancefloor tools, hammering home their message through the big lungs of a house diva. There's almost no new landscape in more than 120 minutes of "Back 9." It seems to be shaped less by a spiritual yearning than by the valedictory atmosphere of a secure faith and a successful career. Fair enough. But should we really expect so little of Parker? Should we be okay with him (ahem) phoning it in?

The answer, I think, is yes. If you love House, the chances are that you also love its highly formulaic quality. It's a shibboleth. You are a believer, and anyone who insists on innovation is missing the point. House has always been strangely personal; it's about who you are, and how you feel. We could even argue, and probably without even pissing too many people off, that it is basically a static genre—an affective form. We don't expect it to evolve much. Instead, the records become a kind of craft-work. They are simply more or less skilled play, according to rules that were set early on. Parker is a living reliquary, an embodiment of this idea.

His intentions as a Christian artist, again, are also worth thinking about. The musical dullness of "Back 9" is, for this reason, not an index of its earnestness or intensity. Inspirational house is, like many forms of charismatic religion, a kind of code. It signals a depth that exists beneath the everyday world, which some can read. It's not gospel. The organ figures are breathtakingly conventional; the spirit either moves in you when you hear them, or it doesn't. The power is in how you read them.

This makes perfect sense, because House culture has long been a spiritual orientation, its music a set of ecstatic triggers. And to be fair, these are largely devoid of content. Whether your ecstasy hails from Faith, from Pride—or from, well, Ecstasy—it doesn't really matter, except to you. This means that the record will mean a whole lot more to some rather than others. But to those who have faith in Terrence Parker, I imagine it will mean a great deal.

01. Finally (Baby Be Mine)
02. Night Light
03. Saved Forever
04. God He Is
05. Spiritual Warfare
06. The Friend I Lost
07. Hiding In Your Love
08. Selah Interlude
09. My Virtuous Woman
10. Open Up Your Spirit
11. Pentecost
12. The Back 9