The ‘Narc’s 50 Favorite Records Of The Aughts

November 30, 2009 at 4:57 pm (Uncategorized)

48. Grant Lee Phillips, Mobilize

I’ve told this story far too often for it to be new to most of you, but what the hell, here we go again. Like all of us, I remember all too vividly the actual day of September 11, 2001. I went into work around 10:30 that morning, knowing that the attacks had happened, and the first tower had gone down already. Sitting at a stoplight on the corner of Cermak and Harlem, Peter Jennings delivered the news that the second tower was down. Work was surreally quiet, our restaurant being in a shopping mall and no one being particularly interested in shopping that day. On the suggestion of the governor or mayor, Oak Brook Mall shut down about 4:00 that afternoon, so we all went home.

It was a gorgeous, beautiful day, but a day so oddly quiet–no planes in the air, and an almost comical lack of traffic to be found anywhere. I drove home back down Cermak, too despairing to listen to the news anymore. I put Mobilize, a CD I’d picked up just a few days earlier (it came out a month before that, I was just a bit late) and popped it into the player…and my most vivid memory of that day took place. As I drove through Broadview, an economically blighted village in the western suburbs of Chicago (not the sort of place you’d want to be walking alone at night, in other words), Grant Lee Phillips’s gorgeous, yearning, lilting “See America” came pouring out of the speakers as I noticed that someone at a thoroughly decrepit Popeye’s Chicken had changed their marquee sign to say “God Bless America”….and I was in tears all over again.

For years and years, any discussion of this record, Phillips second solo outing (but let’s call it the first proper solo album, since the first was the oddly slapdash Ladies Love Oracle) after dissolving the final incarnation of Grant Lee Buffalo was dominated by that experience. Oh, there were other GLP albums I liked more than Mobilize, I figured, perhaps the folky, rustic country turn on Virginia Creeper, or his return to the more familiar musical landscapes of his Buffalo days on his Strangelet disc. And so a few months ago, anticipating compiling this list, I thought to myself “Self, there should probably be a Grant Lee Phillips disc in your countdown.” I figured I’d give ’em all one listen and then probably go with something else…but then I kept coming back to Mobilize.

Even at the time, as “See America” (the first track on the record) dominated this record almost to the point of exclusion of other songs on it, I still remember thinking songs like “Spring Released” (which starts with Bowie’s “Young Americans” riff and takes it to eleven on an amazing chorus) or gorgeous, should’ve-been-a-hit “Beautiful Dreamers” (which if I remember got a neat acoustic treatment by Grant the Troubador on an episode of Gilmore Girls) were pretty awesome. Revisiting it, I came to not only appreciate how terrific those tracks are, but also came to love songs like the evocative “Lazily Drowning” and “Sleepless Lake” more than I ever remembered back in the day.

Mobilize is an odd album in the GLP canon. The record is shot through with acoustic guitars…but also fully-powered by what surely sounds like a one-man electronica sound throughout the record. Electronic beats, drums, synth washes and flourishes work organically with “real” instruments, and usually very, very well. (If you called this Grant’s homage to The Magnetic Fields, you wouldn’t be missing it by much, in other words.)

Of the four or five GLP solo albums to come out this decade, this is the one that makes the list for one very simple reason: the songs. Grant Lee Phillips has recorded some amazing songs over the last ten years, but nowhere in that catalog has he stacked up so many of his best songs back-to-back as he did on Mobilize.

Songs to sample:

“See America”
“Beautiful Dreamers”
“Sleepless Lake”

48. Grant Lee Phillips, Mobilize (2001)
49. The Cobbs, Sing The Deathcapades (2006)
50. The Bangles, Doll Revolution (2003)
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