Everything this week stinks. New Albert Brooks movie, “My First Mister”: stinks. New Steve Martin movie, “Novocaine”: really stinks. New Wilco album, great band, Rolling Stone says it’s the first great album this year: stinks. New group from Sweden or someplace called the Hives, great look, ton of energy, punky, loud, short songs, Boston papers foaming at the mouth, sounds like just what we need: stinks. All is stinky.
The most depressing one of these is the Wilco album, “Yankee Hotel Foxtrot” (Nonesuch), and not because it’s a bad album either -in fact, it’s a pretty good album. What happened with it is that when they turned it in to their record company -which at the the time was Reprise -they (Reprise) declined to release it, so the band bought the album back and started putting it out on the internet, where they achieved enough notoriety/word-of-mouse that Nonesuch (ironically owned by Time/Warner, which also owns Reprise) eventually came through with a reasonable offer.
Now it’s finally out and getting lots of great reviews, thus setting the stage for a nice little David and Goliath-type success story, with Wilco coming through with their integrity and music intact after essentially getting the bullies at Time/Warner to pay for the same album twice. It’s a darn fine record, too -not just more of the same, but an arguably bold step in a more subdued and arty direction that finds the band branching out in terms of more varied instrumentation and even a bit of dissonance.
The problem is that the songs are a little lackluster. Not terrible by any means -leader/singer-songwriter Jeff Tweedy’s gift for compelling lyrics is still much in evidence, and the tunes are never less than OK, but there’s a certain sort of resigned deja-vu to the songs he’s come up with here. Lyrically, too many of them have a couple great lines but can’t decide whether to be direct or surreal, and melodically there just isn’t much meat. Past Wilco albums have always featured a rocker or two that could knock your socks off, a shot of joy to counteract the despair prevalent in so much of the material; this one kind of leaves you hanging, with no particular tune in your head.
Not that there’s any reason they should be held responsible for delivering something uplifting as well as depressing all the time, but it was a combination that worked. Reprise must’ve been singing the age-old record company favorite, “Where’s the single?” Commendable as it is that Wilco went out on a limb and altered their proven formula, the result is a little monotonous -fascinating, yet ultimately unsatisfying. The damn record company was right, and the artist (and don’t get me wrong, this is one of my favorite artists, and this will still be, as stupid Rolling Stone said, one of the best albums of the year) -was wrong, which is very depressing.
I hate when the record company is right -that should never happen! -yet ever since the CD era ushered in the Golden Age of Outtakes, in which we’ve all been buying not only our old record collections over again but the stuff that wasn’t even good enough to be in our record collections as well, I’ve had to admit that at least nine times out of ten, when a song was left off a record, it was for a good reason. This has been a very hard thing to admit.
Twenty years ago it would’ve been impossible to imagine that there were songs by the Beatles, the Stones, the Who, the Band, Hendrix, Otis Redding, you name it, that I didn’t need to hear; but now, the evidence is in, and the conclusion is inescapable: everybody sucks occasionally. The record companies were right. There’s exceptions, of course, as there are to every rule -but not anywhere near as many as I hoped there’d be. Progress has left my heroes tarnished, and given me added sympathy for their employers -apparently, nothing stays true. I may as well slash my wrists right now. I’m old, I’m tired…
Maybe I’m just in a bad mood this week. Albert Brooks is great in “My First Mister”, and the movie has some nice moments and a good premise in the unlikely friendship between a teenage goth misfit and an anal, middle-aged men’s clothing store manager, but the result is a little too much like an afterschool special. And The Hives debut CD, “Veni Vidi Vicious” (Sire) is somewhat refreshing, energy and attitude-wise, and while most of this is severely recycled New York punk, there’s a few cuts – “Main Offender”, “The Hives – Declare Guerre Nucleaire”, and “The Hives – Introduce the Metric System in Time” that work just fine (hell, it’s worth it just for those titles alone, and the look, and the promo -whaddaya want, Beethoven?)
So maybe I’m being too hard on some of these guys. The Steve Martin movie “Novocaine”, though, much as I love him, really does stink, through and through.
One bright spot for the future: Christine’s in Dennis has booked a show with Lee Rocker (ex-Stray Cats) on Saturday, May 11th, and he’ll be appearing with Scotty Moore, of all people -y’ know, Scotty Moore, Elvis’s original guitar player? The guy who played that total maniac, hilarious solo on “Too Much”, not to mention the rest of the early Elvis hits? So, assuming this is all on the level -and feel free to double-check to make sure that Scotty is indeed in the building, because this is an extremely rare and unusual occurrence – that makes it a pretty much compulsory event, assuming you have the $800 or whatever exorbitant fee Christine’s has decided to charge. (I’m going to get one of those little notebooks and pretend I’m a reporter.)