True story. I popped this CD in the player in the car to listen to it for the first time on my way to kill an hour at the guitar store, and I backed right over a stray cat that has been hanging around the house. This cat had some aspirations of being a pet, but she was a mess, not knowing when to stop meowing and evidently missed the get-out-of-the-way of cars lesson at Cat School, So I got to unceremoniously dispose of the former poor God's creature, while this CD kept spinning. I went inside and took a Lortab left over from when, earlier in the week, I got a stick in my eye, slashing my cornea across the pupil of my good eye like in that Salvador Dali movie, and evidently my HMO hooked me up with Dr. Feelgood, and sequestered myself in the couch and gave this CD a second try, succumbing to the quick, deep sleep of the damned that an hour of drugs and death affords you.
Now that I am having a remarkably carnage-free morning, I can safely say that painkillers and a dead cat are great poetic complements to this lovable downer. David Berman, the man behind the sporadic but always brilliant Silver Jews notoriously had a recent suicide attempt involving Xanax and crack, has penned one of the most textured and lovely albums of his career. The Jews was forever cursed with being considered a Pavement side project because of Steven Malkmus' involvement (who also contributes some guitar on this as well) but since it has finally outlived and outwitted it big sister, this is no longer an issue. His voice ones a somewhat detuned baritone takes on a more haggard Lou Reed sing-speak take which I think serves his songs rather well.
His subject matter, always 3 parts seductive and 1 part cringey in its depiction of hard living, are amped up on this long awaited album. "Punks in the Beerlight" may be the best drunken love-rage song this side of American Music Club with stark lines like "you wanna smoke the gel off a fentanyl patch" and the desperate shout in the chorus "I LOVE YOU TO THE MAX!." It sets the bar for this short album of what are essentially love songs: love for being wasted and talking about it when sober, love for lovers current and past, love of life, love of death, love of love in the abstract and in the very heavy concrete. His constant hollering of "I LOVE YOU TO THE MAX!" is perhaps the most complex and honest declaration of real love made of dirt and grit and loss and complete horseshit since Neil Young promised not "not mess with her mind when she starts to see the darker side of me" in "Lookin' For Lover." and this is all in the first two and a half minutes.
The pathos train doesn't stop there though. "Sometimes a Pony Gets Depressed", um, gallops over his misery and delivers some great guitar soloing in the process. It's a great resolution song, where one fills the urn to the brim and watches with joy how the water spurts out in a perfect rainbow arc from cracks, and looks with satisfaction at the soggy bucket that remains when its drained. "k-Hole" is a fucked sorta waltz depicting a handful his fellow weaving travelers of the drunken path. I was going to compare it to "Here Comes a Regular" but I think this song is actually a little more honest, holding on to some of the glory to be found in decrepitude.
Really, every song on this album is a variance on a theme, and I don't want to paint this as a corny set of drinking songs fro drunks, its a brilliantly executed rock album, loaded with textures and strings, banjos and harmonies and guitars and Berman's best lyrics of his already impressive poetic career. "I'm Getting Back Into Getting Back Into You" with its sparser arrangement and weaving slide guitar, where he asks "Baby, won't you take this magnet and put my picture back on the fridge?" it fits in with the minor key declarations of love off my now-second - favorite album of his The Natural Bridge, but musically, its definitely a step up sophistication-wise, without making a tragic Wilco-esque mistake of sacrificing the lyrics for pushing the boundaries of the instrumentation.
Ditto for "How Can I love you If You Won't Lie Down" where in all this self-pity and darkness and slobberng there still lies some humor, and no one but my beloved revolutionary sweethearts Drive By Truckers have a handle on this anymore. The dude from Cracker has kinda lost it. Alex Chilton, despite having a new shiny Posies-powered Big Star in operation, still hasn't regained the magic. I haven't heard any new music from Gordon Gano in ages, and Mark Eitzel appears to have himself gotten tired of his own scintillating devastating portraits of love and loss, so I'm glad Berman has survived his demons. He's a great Bukowski figure in rock music, someone who can be sweet without being saccharine and understands that everyone likes a good joke. I'm in the honeymoon period with this record right now, but I'm about to call it the best one I've heard this year. Get to it before last call comes around.
Alex V. Cook listens to everything and writes about most of it. His latest book, the snappily titled Louisiana Saturday Night: Looking for a Good Time in South Louisiana's Juke Joints, Honky-Tonks, and Dance Halls is an odyssey from the backwoods bars and small-town dives to the swampside dance halls and converted clapboard barns of a Louisiana Saturday Night. Don't leave Heathrow without it. His first book Darkness Racket and Twang is available from SideCartel. The full effect can be had at alex v cook.com
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