For most, being forced to tie off your father's arm for his heroin injections, being beaten by an abusive stepfather, battling a drug addiction of your own, and being placed in a psychiatric hospital may sound like the makings of the latest Hollywood drama. However, it is in fact the makings of the real life that Chris Palko has lived. As expected, these experiences have left an indelible mark on both Palko's life and his chosen career. Professionally known as Cage, Palko continues to use his notepad as a therapeutic release, just as he had during his lengthy stints of solitude at Stony Brook Hospital. Cage has had a decorated career up to this point, working with many notable names in hip-hop, culminating with the release of his first solo project, "Movies For The Blind" in 2002. Cage followed with "Hell's Winter" in 2005. This album marked a change for Palko who no longer wanted to rap about drugs just for the sake of it. The trend continues on "Depart From Me", his third solo effort.
The album opens with "Nothing Left To Say", a guitar heavy tribute to Camu Tao, a member of the Definitive Jux family that recently lost his battle with lung cancer. "Beat Kids" is another guitar driven song about domestic violence. Cage undoubtedly draws from his own upbringing as he references a woman who has been married several times, eventually ending up with a man who beats and rapes her when she attempts to leave him. The description is vividly clear and helps to set the tone for the rest of the album. On "Dr. Strong", Cage questions the methods and practices of Stony Brook Hospital, and the reasons for being placed in the hospital in the first place, as Cage raps:
"You dropped me off and left me there, and started your vacation
Away from me, with your new family, I got no invitation
If you don't think he's being abusive, it's because he's in your ear
If I don't see things your way, then I'm not thinkin' clear?
I was just in your house, goin' to school, lookin' for validation
Pissed you off, now I'm the hospital eatin' medication
And if I tell them I don't want to take some, then I'm still myself
But the drugs they're makin' me take make me wanna kill myself"
"I Found My Mind in Connecticut" and "I Lost It In Havertown" are two of the more synthesizer heavy tracks on the album, but Cage's flow works well with them. While the latter could have been a bit longer, I think that the brevity works to get the point across more concisely. "Teenage Hands" is another short song that has Cage lying about his age to a seventeen year-old girl's parents in the first verse. In the second verse, things get a bit more interesting as he describes a boy who was just playing Truth or Dare just two years ago that is now deeply involved in the "business of shootin' Arabs". On "Kick Rocks", Cage lashes out at a handful of folks including an old buddy fresh out of rehab, a guy wanting tickets to a show for him and six of his friends, and even his mom, who calls looking for some assistance with moving furniture. "Captain Bumout " starts out on the synthesized side of things but then the guitar comes in and takes over the song. Easily one of the standout tracks on the album, "Bumout" is the story of the guy at the club or bar that isn't necessarily having a good time while there, as Cage raps:
"She grabbed me by the hand and she started to dance man
I said "Oh, this is great", now I look like a transplant
She put my hands on her hips and started to squish me
I felt her ass, it was exactly where it should be
My drink was in the air, I'm not really sure what it was
Or why it was in the air, I guess it was because
I was with you, I'm just so depressed, forget it
Alright already, I got it, you wanna dance, I get it
I'm trying to loosen up, you're trying to read my sullen eyes
This intellectual black hole reeks of cologne and lies
This song is making me sick, I tell myself it's fine
But the deejay replayed the beginning for the sixth time
I hope somebody pulls a gun out, and sucks all the fun out
And levels the playing field for Captain Bumout"
"Strain' and "Fat Kids Need An Anthem" begin the descent towards the end of the album. The closing moments of "Fat Kids" reminds me of the Suicidal Tendencies song, "Institutionalized" with its stream of consciousness rant about the desire for food he can no longer eat and simply wanting a Big Mac or some Chinese food. The album closes out with the title track and the lead single, "I Never Knew You". On the synthesizer heavy "Depart From Me", Cage is wishing good riddance to a past love that he vows to never hold again. From that point, on "Never" we follow Cage's narrative of a man who is following a young woman through the streets and eventually winds up at her home:
"I'm miles out of my way...creepy, I want more
Was gonna turn back, but you stuck your key in your front door
Iím standing across the street, stars that aligned us to meet
Standing outside with your trash feeling incomplete
My finger aching for your doorbell like a random blog
Instead I lurk outside in the cold like an abandoned dog
Perish the thought, you should cherish the words that I've got in my mouth
The only words that can truly explain how I got in your house"
While I'm not overly familiar with Cage's entire body of work, I've been exposed enough to get the gist of what Palko is about. His penchant for vivid storytelling coupled with real life experiences make it easy to understand why he has amassed such a cult following. With "Depart From Me", Cage may alienate a few of his fans that want him to continue to be more of an underground artist. Those are the fans that are disgusted by the mainstream attention that Cage is garnering. They hate the video on MTV. They hate the magazine interviews. They hate it all. The lion's share of Cage's fans will see this newly found exposure as Chris Palko taking steps towards getting his story out to a wider audience with this personal and quite exceptional release.
Music Vibes: 8 of 10 Lyric Vibes: 9 of 10 TOTAL Vibes: 8.5 of 10
Originally posted: July 7, 2009