As honky rappers go, Buck 65 lacks the spit of, say, label mate Sage Francis, or the drawling beats-and-rhymes hip-hop purism of Aesop Rock. Compared to the confessional nasalisms of Eminem or the psycho-apocalypto imagery of El-P, Buck 65 (born Richard Terfry) is more like David Byrne: deadpan and quirky, almost to a fault. On Situation, he turns wistful beats and sighing rhymes to draw deep and ever-darkening parallels between 1957 and 2007, dedicating the whole disc to characterizing the socio-cultural upheavals of back in that particular day. The thesis: The whole Happy Days thing wasn't so happy, but in Buck's rhymes, the Robert Frank photos have never been clearer and the truths never sadder. Beatniks get busted in “Spread 'Em,” the world is as melancholic as it is monochromatic in “White Bread,” and “Cop Shades” is as poignant and paranoid as anything William S. Burroughs would have busted over a beat.
But Buck gets so caught up in his characters he lapses into a deadpan narrative that saps his tracks of charisma; he forgets he's rapping and that that's what keeps us listening. Only on “Benz,” the lone track on which Buck rowdies up the beat and lets other MCs get on, does the album catch fire instead of just smolder. Otherwise, his tone is as dry as, say, Steven Jesse Bernstein, the late, great, self-deprecating Seattle poet whose verse was posthumously put over beats 15 years ago, even if—and this is Situation's true talent—Buck 65's scope is more like Kerouac's: sympathetic. Trouble is, it's more for his characters than for his listeners.