genius edges out idiocy

Strip Cycle (Tooth & Nail)
Mike Knorit

By Robert Gruber

It's a thin line between idiot savant and genius. If you need an illustration, compare Dustin Hoffman in Rain Man with Tom Hulce in Amadeus. In both situations, they did what they did because they had to. It was their gift — maybe a blessing, maybe a curse.

Somewhere in the middle of that concept is Mike Knott. What makes Knott such a genius-idiot boy? Strip Cycle has been the most frustrating listening experience I've had this year. It's not one of those albums I listen to once, say "It's crap!, then listen to it a few more times and get hooked; I hated this record more with each listen. I was inches away from a complete pan and then it happened. Like the smile that spread slowly across the face of the Grinch that stole Christmas, the true meaning of Strip Cycle dribbled across my psyche and I got it.

At times it sounds like a glorified 4-track demo. Songs like "Rockstars on H" and "Bad Check," among others, aren't fully realized. The diamonds are truly in the rough here — but boy, do they shine. "Transister Sister," "Light My Fuse" and "Super Girl" are first-rate rockers, like '90s-style Eddie Cochran played at a beach party on acoustic guitars. "Am I Winnin' Somethin" revels in seeing the half-empty glass as half-full:

The bill collector calls, won'! leave me alone

Then Pacific Bell shut of the telephone

Am I winnin somethin...

"Denial," a song about drinking, is intensely personal:

One more drink and heaven could be callin'

And I won't care if the sky starts fallin'

Cuz I feel free, with God and a bottle and me...

Had Strip Cycle less of a haphazard quality and more solid songwriting, it could've been a stunning album. As it is, it is what it is. Genius or idiocy? Well, to paraphrase another great songwriter, Mike Knott's idiocy is worth most genius' diamonds.