When singer-songwriter P. J. Pacifico is at his best there is a heartfelt honesty to his music. You can hear it in his voice; you can hear it in his lyrics. There is a palatable flow of emotions that seems at once spontaneous and completely sincere. And of the ten songs — nine written by the singer — on his latest album, Outlet (to be released in June), there are plenty of examples of Pacifico at his best.
There is a natural, conversational quality to his lyrics that reminds me of nothing so much as the aesthetic reaction against artificiality in poetry that marked the Romantic poetry of the 19th century and became a hallmark of modern verse. The “common language of the common man” verse that spoke the way people really spoke was emblematic of the sincerity of the poet. Pacifico’s lyrics, written we are told after the engagement and eventual marriage to his longtime girlfriend, sing with the same kind of sincerity.
“As Soon as I Can,” for example, a song which he describes as a thank you to his wife for her complete support for his career, is an unsentimental look at the artist’s need for freedom. It is a simple description of his feelings as he leaves her to go on tour and sees her face saying one thing, her voice another. Emotion is wrapped in natural conversation. Contrast this with the lyric gymnastics of “Waiting” which he describes as a fictional song about “falling for your best friend.” Here he seems more interested in coming up with ingenious rhymes than he is with honest expression.
Still it is honesty of emotion that dominates the album. “Lakeshore Drive,” “Heads Up,” “Targets” and “Fold Up Your Heart” all have that natural quality which belies artifice: art without artificiality. It is art at its best that keeps the artifice hidden; not an easy thing to do. It is the artist who can make you forget all the work that went into creating what you are hearing that is the true artist. Pacifico makes it seem easy.
“New Song” is a playful illustration of what seems like a spontaneous composition. It is a self-referential meta-song, a song about itself. Pacifico says it reminds him of Blues Traveler’s “Hook,” which it surely does. It is as though the song is writing itself as he sings. The words he sings are the only words he knows. They are his just because he says so. He’s not sure how long it will last, but he will sing it to the end. Again, there seems to be no artifice to what is clearly very artful. All I can do is try to finish the thing, he says, about a song which has clearly been finished, as he gives the finger to the establishment.
“Ships in the Night,” the one song on the album not written by Pacifico, is by Jonathan and Ken Stuart. Its sound is much more country than anything else on the album. Pacifico’s songs have a softer, pop-rock vibe. “Home With Me,” the story of ten years of his relation with his wife before their marriage, is much more the characteristic sound of the songs on Outlet. It is a sound you are likely to hear a lot more of in the future.
Videos of Pacifico covering songs like Van Morrison’s “Into the Mystic” and the Beatles’ “Something” as well as several other songs are available on his website. There is also a short promotional video for the new album, which will give you a sampling of some of the new material.