Editor’s Note: The Albumism staff has selected what we believe to be the 100 Most Dynamic Debut Albums Ever Made, representing a varied cross-section of genres, styles and time periods. Click “Next Album” below to explore each album or view the full album index here.
Critics gently disparaged Silvertone upon its release in January 1985 as a half serious cash-in on vintage Orbison and Presley—and perhaps the Elvis-in-the-shadows cover art didn't help. But dismissing Chris Isaak as a nostalgia act was premature; while he may have appeared to some as an imposter at the onset, the fluid R&B/west coast/folk sound he began to shape on his first album has since become more recognizable as Isaak's creation than as a derivative of his influences.
Isaak's smoldering, throaty vocal plays quite adeptly with his band's hazy guitars and keys, which add just enough spacey twists and turns to keep the material out of one-note territory. Lead single "Dancin'" is classic Isaak with a steady Prairie Prince-furnished drum beat and James Calvin Wilsey's plucked Stratocaster that builds in momentum across its three-and-three-quarter-minute duration. "Back on Your Side" and "Pretty Girls Don't Cry" evoke the shimmering California coastal vibe that would surface more frequently on future albums like 1993’s San Francisco Days. The creepy chunky thump of “Voodoo” is a fun listen, dirtying up Isaak's vocal as it pushes into its upper register—an early prototype of his renowned 1995 single "Baby Did A Bad Bad Thing.”
Also of interest is "Gone Ridin,’” a retro romp rife with tremolo—a track that would eventually be picked up by director David Lynch the following year for inclusion in his now-renowned neo-noir film Blue Velvet. Lynch and Isaak would eventually join forces again, most notably the addition of Isaak's signature hit "Wicked Game" in the 1990 film Wild At Heart, which played a significant role in the single's top ten success.
The pretty "Funeral in the Rain" is one of Silvertone's most understated songs, which sounds distinctly like Forever Blue-era Isaak. The album slows down even further for the cowboy ballad-inspired "Western Stars", which gives Wilsey's lap steel star billing while Isaak croons with unabashed Elvis flair. It's just quirky enough that it's endearing, and not taking himself too seriously has perpetually been part of Isaak's appeal as a performer.
Silvertone wasn't a hit. In fact, it didn't even chart anywhere beyond Australia, a country that has provided Isaak with a consistently loyal following over the course of his career. But this is the raw material he would continually refine, and by 1989's breakthrough Heart Shaped World, Isaak proved clearly that his skillfully crafted sound wasn't a gimmick.