One’s the Boss, the Other’s Unemployed
Ever since Occupy there’s been plenty of 99-percenter representation in popular music. Charming as it can be, too much is too obvious, tacking on unnecessary anti-religion, anti-consumerist, or anti-anti taglines the way Tea Partiers descended from distraught conservatives with legitimate grievances to kooks railing a non-existent theory of socialism and myriad unrelated social matters. Compared with the right—or any bullshit approach falling in between—I’ll side with the left’s antics any day of the week. But it can get stupid real quick, hence the unfortunate quagmire political music en masse can become. Here Springsteen’s the slightly inferior, not because he’s out of his game but because it probably gets harder to find new words just as sharp as those used thirty years ago to address similar problems. Old dogs sometimes learn new tricks—and sometimes they shit on the floor because indoors and outdoors look the same.
So these two albums have been sitting on the backburner for the longest time—primarily because I had so much trouble coming up with much to say about Snider’s release. Apart from being one of the better albums I’ve heard this year, it’s one that needs a few plays before it sinks in, something I hate to say but is ultimately true in this case, even more so if you’re unacquainted with the Oregon native. In other news, some general housecleaning with a healthy amount of lemons, honorable mentions, and choice cuts—all of which probably should have gotten another spin but didn’t seem worth it; none merit full-length reviews and most of the lemons and choice cuts aren’t interesting enough to investigate further for potential honorable mention status. If you’ve got the time to nitpick, go for it.
TODD SNIDER – Agnostic Hymns and Stoner Fables (Aimless Records): Reedy scotch-soaked grunts coupled with aggressive blue collar political blues steers this John Prine acolyte’s class conscious narratives. What sets Snider’s storytellers apart is their world-wary (not weary) wit and a backup band so good—as everyone’s noted, Amanda Shires’s fiddle work especially—that they manage to make Jimmy Buffet’s “West Nashville Grand Ballroom Gown” heroine sound like a real flesh and blood runaway rather than a cardboard cutout. But no matter how creditable the instrumentation, it’s Snider whose musings give voice—an angry voice—to real grievances of a population long underrepresented: “If I had a nickel for every dime you had,” he wonders, “I’d have half your money.” And although he too probably hasn’t “made church in thirty-six Sundays,” it’s his basic human decency that answers his own question of “What’s keepin’ me from killin’ this guy / And takin’ his shit?” A
BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN – Wrecking Ball (Columbia): Springsteen’s featured antagonist in his finest protest music in years is referred to mostly as “they”—“They” who bankrupted his town, “they” who leave us scrounging for meaningful work, etc. etc. And to be fair, we don’t need occasional mention of bankers to ID the somewhat-abstract forces he’s referencing even though it would reduce the pandering. Take note: “Jack of All Trades” amounts to “It’s all happened before and it’ll happen again,” and by the next cut he suggests we “send the robber barons straight to hell” when they return, meaning we won’t change much now. And also note the Boss kicks off with “we” (and yes, that’s you and I) and is no more charitable in addressing our passivity than he is “their” predatory behavior. Because just what kind of irony is implicated when he says “Wherever this flag’s flown/We take care of our own” and, among other things, drops mention of the Superdome in New Orleans? That the rich protect the rich? That we pummel the weak into submission? That us commoners fail miserably at banding together against pernicious powers that direct our squabbling over fabricated divisions? You say all those and more? Me too. A MINUS
BEST COAST – The Only Place (Mexican Summer): Everyone tells me the debut is better and I’m inclined to believe them. (“Last Year”) *
CORNERSHOP – Urban Turban (Ample Play): This ain’t your grandmother’s eclectic guest-laden alterna-pop-whatever album, but pretty close if you can imagine such a thing. (“What Did the Hippie Have In His Bag? [feat. Castle Hill Primary]”) **
OFF! – OFF! (Vice Records): FUCK YOU FIFTEEN MINUTES OF PUNK ROCK PUNK ROCK YOU FUCKHEAD (“Wiped Out”) *
WILCO – iTunes Sessions (dBpm): Live The Whole Love renditions plus a Nick Lowe cameo produce a pleasant albeit tinnier half-hour, five-cut primer with two extra tail-end goodies and, well, a Nick Lowe cameo. (“I Might”) **
JESSIE BAYLIN – “Hurry Hurry,” “Love is Wasted on Lovers” (Little Spark, Blonde Rat)
SIGUR ROS – “Fjögur píanó” (Valtari, XL Recordings)
ESTELLE – All of Me (Atlantic)
FIRST AID KIT – The Lion’s Roar (Witchita)
ESPERANZA SPALDING – Radio Music Society (Concord/Heads Up International)
GOTYE – Making Mirrors (Eleven)
SILVERSUN PICKUPS – Neck of the Woods (Dangerbird Records)