“Twelve Nudes”, is an intriguing title for Furman’s seventh offering with a band. What does “Twelve Nudes” mean? The album cover offers six nudes with ten black bars (as well as other improvisations) to cover the modesty of these faceless yellow models. Evidently one needs to go beyond the visual to see Ezra’s standpoint. The word “nudes” is inspired by one of Ezra’s “two spiritual superheroes” who appears on this LP: Canadian poet, philosopher and essayist Anne Carson. Carson called her “visions/meditations” “nudes”. The “twelve” is a less perplexing, representing the number of tracks Twelve Nudes offers.
Declaring Twelve Nudes as his “punk record” in order “to feel how it felt in a broken world, which punk rock does” is something we see immediately with the opening track and lead single, “Calm Down aka I Should Not Be Alone”. Catchy, adrenaline rushing, angry, frustrating whilst raising palpitations, this LP opener gives the best of everything punk has to give. It does all this in just two minutes and twenty-two seconds. Also, look out for the “woo woo” harmonies which will unexpectedly have you simultaneously singing The Rolling Stones “Sympathy for the Devil” despite the two songs being the antithesis of each other.
Ezra is Jewish and “observes Shabbat and reads the Torah portion on tour each week”. The title of track two, “Evening Prayer aka Justice” is therefore not surprising. Whilst “Evening Prayer aka Justice” does not specifically mention Judaism and any specific religious rituals; this punk-acoustic themed anthem is complete with rousing, galvanising lyrics “If you’ve got the taste for transcendence. Then translate your love into action. And participate in the fight now. For a creed, you can truly believe”.
When Furman compares Twelve Nudes to his 2018 predecessor Transangelic Exodus, he insists this 2019 offering “is a “body” more than a “mind” record – more animal than intellectual”. Nonetheless, Twelve Nudes is immensely spiritual, philosophical and intellectual. “Transition from Nowhere to Nowhere” ponders why “Nobody cares if you’re dying until you’re dead”. “Rated R Crusaders”, heavily punk fuelled and expedited uses the Middle East as its subject matter offering an interesting idea on how one should take a stance on conflict with, “you thought I was on your side but I’m just out for peace”. Another line more likely to provoke discussion from “Rated R Crusaders” is “A burning city in a rearview mirror smudged with honey”.
The “molten and leaden” “Trauma” with its anger-driven soundtrack addresses the reasons that make people commit angry violent acts. For example, the girl who “sees the world see imagined as a girl was a lottery ticket for a phoney jackpot” and how “the mind snaps and economies collapse when the one who works the hardest gets the smallest reward”. What is most mesmerising is despite the theme of anger and the upset and anger generated throughout “Trauma”; there is also a glimmer of hope and revolutionary inspiring hypnopaedia when Furman sings, “They know we got ‘em and empire’s in its autumn when it’s built from the bottom and the bottom won’t build”.
Punk is indeed the main theme of Twelve Nudes but there are also some deliberate and obvious departures from this genre. For instance “I Wanna Be Your Girlfriend” with its “50s doo-wop” sees Ezra displaying his inhibitions, vulnerability and honesty that “I’ve got one ambition… that the real me might be the one you want” sheds an interesting reflection amidst its simple, innocent musical backdrop. Separately, “In America” sees Furman be inspired by Bruce Springsteen.
Many White Stripes fans often pondered as to what “Fell in Love with a Girl” would sound like if it was longer. Ezra answers this question in the penultimate track by adding an extra forty-two seconds (still making it just two minutes and thirty-two seconds long!) with “What Can You Do But Rock N Roll”. This song addresses concerns how civil liberties are being questioned with lyrics “And the kind of sex you want is the kind they’d like to make illegal” and “But when you’re playing canary and they’re selling the coal”. The result is that a great inspiration produces great results.
What makes Ezra Furman’s unique qualities and innovations more profound is his readiness to acknowledge his inspirations and “spiritual heroes” such as late musician Jay Reatard. Whilst Ezra shows seldom concern for the gender pronouns people use for him; his genuine desire “to be a force that tries to revive the human spirit rather than crush it” is passionate, unwavering, unquestionable and consistently demonstrated throughout Twelve Nudes.