…are not a rock band (that’d be a ballsy name, though, right?)
Before going overboard prose-wise on a couple of records that have utterly captured my little world, I realized that there were a couple of discs from a few months back that I’d sort of been looking forward to, and then been utterly disappointed by. So, in an effort to not be the blog that occasionally does music criticism, but offers nothing but positive thumb’s up stuff, I figured I’d devote this to a couple of discs that have been titanic letdowns.
First up is the new one from The Long Winters. I rated their previous disc, When I Pretend To Fall as the best CD of 2004. It took 2 years to get a followup, and I was pretty excited to hear how LW frontman John Roderick had spent that time creatively. One listen and I had a nasty suspicion that the reason there was a two-year gap between Long Winters discs wasn’t due to an overload of creativity, but rather a lack of same. Further listens shoved this disc into the Writer’s Bloc hall of fame. It isn’t that the new release, Putting The Days To Bed is aggressively bad. Instead, it’s that it’s aggressively boring. What made the 2004 effort so great were odd songs like “Bride And Bridle”, or the explosive conclusion to “Blanket Hog”, or the acoustic beauty of “It’ll Be A Breeze” or the strange turn the closer, “Nora” takes. Interspersed amongst those odder, challenging songs were some fairly standard guitar-pop tunes–”Stupid” being the best of those–that shone brighter thanks to the company they kept.
Putting The Days To Bed plays out like some marketing genius told Roderick that he’d be a superstar if he dump the challenging and odd songs and just did a whole album of fairly samey, generic-sounding post-90′s guitar pop. As such, it isn’t a total disaster, but it does reveal that, at least this time around, The Long Winters don’t have the hooks, the arrangements, or the lyrical incisiveness to do the straight-ahead thing. Days reminds me of nothing so much as the Pixies’ post-Doolittle ouevre, which always sounded to me like some marketing survey told that latter band that if they did whole albums of songs without oddities like “Debaser” or “Wave Of Mutilation” the kids would dig ‘em more.
The other disc that painfully disappoints is Grant Lee Phillips’ nineteeneighties. I again don’t want to give the impression that this disc is unredeemably awful, because it most certainly isn’t that. GLP’s dramatic, soaring voice is one of the most unique and must-hear vocal instruments of the last 20 years in pop music, and I think I’d buy a record of him singing the Manhattan phone book (memo to Mr. Phillips: please don’t do that, it’s a bit of hyperbole there). Hearing him take on a bunch of new wave and post-new wave favorites sounds, on paper, like a fabulous idea.
Thing is, right now GLP seems stuck in a rustic phase he’s unable to shake. Every song he covers on nineteeneighties ambles along with a folksy-acoustic hush, with fiddles and mandolins (Peter Buck has so much to answer for). It’s all very pleasant and very, very enjoyable in two to three song doses, but exposed more than that, the disc just gets,well…boring.
My beef is probably related to my own tastes. On the last Grant Lee Buffalo album, Phillips created some monster-huge rock songs, like the near-hit “Truly” and the equally-wonderful “Change The Tune”. On his second solo album, “Beautiful Dreamers” and “Spring Released” were meaty radio hits that never were. Grant Lee Phillips can rock out, and rock out with the best of ‘em when he wants to in other words is what I’m saying. So hearing him deliberately choose to not rock out at all, and hearing him studiously flee from rocking out seems like a disturbing career path for him.
And rocking out even once or twice would’ve made nineteeneighties a better record. The pleasant langor becomes lugubrious too quickly here (the cover of the Psychedelic Furs MTV classic “Love My Way” is so painfully stretched into deliberate pleasant country-folk torpor that I’ve managed to endure it in it’s entirety maybe twice.) Maybe the worst thing a cover can do is make you want to hear the original more. Hearing Phillips deconstruct “So. Central Rain”, “Under The Milky Way” or “Age Of Consent” made me desperate to hear the original artists do those songs properly.
There are some wonderful moments on nineteeneighties (the “Wave Of Mutilation” cover that kicks it all off is terrific, for instance), and in bite-sized pieces the record kind of works. As a whole though, I it doesn’t; it leaves me hoping Phillips has a full-length record of originals set for next year.