New York City’s pretty-boy
playboys are quite aware of how many critics despise them. Their
instant success and transformation into a descriptive modifier for
every garage-rock revivalist on the scene has resulted in an impressive
backlash against trust-funded,tight-jeaned, chain-smoking hipsters.
Yet the members of The Strokes refuse to fade away.
Their long-awaited sophomore effort, Room On Fire, has generated
an overpowering buzz. Everyone, bitter detractors included, wants
to get a hand on what’s been toted as a grittier, more guitar-oriented
version of the band’s stalwart sound. The bad news is that
there are few evident traces of any serious strip-down. The good
news is that, although not revelatory, this is one catchy album.
Room on Fire kicks off with three head-shaking tracks—“What
Ever Happened?” “Reptilia” and “Automatic
Stop.” The former opens with a Stevie Nicks-one-wing-dove-type
beating rhythm, fluttering within a circle of hand claps. Lead vocalist
Julian Casablancas does his best to call forth Beatle-frenzy passion,
screaming, “I wanna be beside her/She wanna be admired,”
in typical love-song fashion. However, when he continues, “You
don’t miss me, I know,” the flimsy ballad gains some
Casablancas always seems to be searching for substance—or
at least out to prove that he understands the functional importance
of meaning. In this case, the message is not too heavy, but it is
a bit cathartic. The album is ripe with references to what the members
will or will not do—”No, I won’t yet,” “I
said wait,” “I just need a little time,” “I
don’t want to waste your time” and “I don’t
want to do it your way/I don’t want to give it to you, your
way.” There is a definite sense that they’re not going
to take it anymore—whatever “that” is—and
that getting things off their chests will be a 24-hour gas.
Room On Fire is playful, serious and contemplative on its own terms.
Critics: Let the debate begin. —JG
Robyn Hitchcock is not a
yam. Most songwriters wouldn’t think to mention that little
tidbit of information, but Hitchcock isn’t like most songwriters.
He’s a bit wacky.
His new CD Luxor is, at first sight, a rambling collection of some
of the oddest love songs ever written and some songs that don’t
seem to be about anything comprehensible. But with a few listens,
the quiet melodic and poetic beauty comes through.
The CD is a return to some of Hitchcock’s minimalist work,
like Moss Elixir and I Often Dream of Trains, although not as major
as those efforts. Most of the songs were recorded live in studio
with just Hitchcock’s guitar and voice, with a few other instruments
and guests like Jon Brion added on some songs. The result is strangely
hypnotic—a lone surrealist with just his guitar and a strange
idea like, “I was born as a woman, but feel it could go either
The return to minimalism comes after the rocking 2001 album Jewels
for Sophia and the reunion of Hitchcock’s influential New
Wave, psychedelic-revival band The Soft Boys, which wasn’t
known during its time, but influenced acts like R.E.M. and The Flaming
Lips with 1979’s Can of Bees and the 1980 masterpiece Underwater
Moonlight. Last year’s Nextdoorland was the antithesis of
a normal reunion album because it was actually really good, solid
rock. Unfortunately, Hitchcock left The Soft Boys again because,
as his Web page says, he wasn’t excited about it anymore.
That doesn’t mean his new solo work should be dismissed, however.
Luxor is a quickly recorded gem of some songs that Hitchcock had
just written. It was given out as a party favor to attendees of
his 50th-birthday concert in England and is now available through
www.robynhitchcock.com. While this suggests it is a minor work,
it’s still an interesting CD for experienced Hitchcock fans.
Hitchcock manages a pretty elated sound with just the acoustic guitar
on songs like “One L,” a rollicking love song to, as
far as I can tell, a girl named Michele (the spelling is guessed
because there’s no lyric sheet).
Other highlights include the quiet opener, “The Sound of Sound,”
which occasionally breaks its calm sound with melodic leaps. “Penelope’s
Angels” features Hitchcock’s fluid picking and lines
like, “She’s got a thing about yams/I am not a yam.”
“Not yet,” he adds with hope at the end of the song.
The odd songs might make some feel as if they’re diving into
a small swimming pool, but once you start bathing in Hitchcock’s
sound, you’ll adjust and enjoy yourself.—JM
Belle and Sebastian
(out of 5)
The truth be known, I like
Dear Catastrophe Waitress a lot more than I’ve let on. In
fact, if I weren’t a little ashamed to say it, I might say
this is the best album of the year. But I will try to be a reasonable,
non-gushing critic about this. I’ll concede that the new Belle
and Sebastian album is not without its flaws. And I’ll admit
that it certainly will not appeal to every taste.
But if this album is going to divide people, it will probably be
because of its musical style—a drastic revision on the band’s
old formula, and for the most part, a very cheeky homage to ’70s
bubblegum artists like Godspell or (ahem) the Osmonds. Or, if you
happen to have been weaned (and haunted ever since) by Carol Lynn
Pearson’s LDS-themed play “My Turn on Earth,”
this will be sure to bring it all flooding back.
But Belle and Sebastian is nothing if not ironic, and herein lies
the reward for those not discouraged by the album’s pedigree.
For frontman Stuart Murdoch and company use this framework to construct
an album from the point of view of the ’70s hipster, all grown
up now at a self-compromising office job with all the whimsy of
youth long faded.
With this perspective in mind (and granted, it is a bit of a stretch,
but stay with me here), Dear Catastrophe Waitress does for CEOs
and the white-collar elite what OK Computer did for the lackadaisical
And so we have “Step Into My Office, Baby,” as gleefully
scandalous as the title suggests, “If She Wants Me”
and “Wrapped Up in Books,” all expressing the inhibition
of desire stemming from the taboo of workplace romance.
And so we have the title track, “Lord Anthony” and the
ironically didactic “If You Find Yourself Caught in Love,”
all failed attempts at consoling the subordinate employee or student
with aphorisms like, “You may as well take it in the gut/It
can’t get worse.”
And so we have “Stay Loose,” the sublime closing track
with a slightly more modern (read: ’80s) sound that sums up
the frustration of being a tight-ass while living amongst the common
Like I’ve said, some of the album may not fit easily into
this (for lack of a better word) paradigm. But like the best art,
although it does not hit one over the head with its ideas, it at
least lends itself to such interpretations.
So whether it’s a sympathetic memoriam for the band’s
own loss of touch with reality, or a cautionary tale to cocksure,
business-inclined youth, it cannot be denied that Waitress is a
sure stroke of genius. Well, sure, you could deny it. But you’d
be wrong. Honestly. Kids these days. I’ll just never understand
Hymn Country Hymn Secret Hymn
Do Make Say Think
(out of 5)
OK, let me see if I can get
away with this.
Do Make Say Think is make smile. Is make want sing. Is play. Is
make want camp. Is make fear. Is yell. Is scream cover run love
Believe? Trust. Listen. Is make. Is like Godspeed. (OK, technically
I can still do that, since “like” can be a verb even
though I’m not using it as one. And Godspeed is, like, totally
a verb). Is label Godspeed. See? Like?
Is wear grow die? Want kill read? Calm. Calm. Stop. Stop. Live hug
smile. Drop shoot. Drop shoot. Drop shoot! Fall. Lie. Sleep. Smile?
Wow, I did it! A whole review in all verbs. I’ll bet no one’s
ever done that before—and got to keep his or her job. But
let’s just recap the important points, shall we?
1. Do Make Say Think is from Toronto, and the band is on the same
label as Godspeed You Black Emperor. And yeah, there’s a little
bit of that sound in there, as well as a dab of your more live-sounding
2. The new album Winter Hymn Country Hymn Secret Hymn is sort of
divided into three “hymns”—one for winter, one
for country, and—yeah, you can read—you get the idea.
3. Nouns and adjectives are very important. It is not a very good
idea to write a review without them. People will not know what you
are saying. (Just take my word for it—DON’T try one
of your own.) For a band, however, it is acceptable to exclude them.
People still get the idea. Especially when there is no singing in
I think that’s about it, really. Though I suppose I should
also mention some other stuff:
1. The “Winter Hymn,” or the first third of the album,
is easily the most accessible part, skillfully crafted, at times
transcendent (even though I hate that word).
2. “Country Hymn” is the most plodding part, but still
pretty and, at times incendiary (another bad word).
3. “Secret Hymn” ends on a high note, and by high I
mean both “good” and “happy,” though those
are admittedly pretty bland words for a college-level newspaper.
Basically, this is all pretty self-explanatory, soothing, but interesting
instrumental music that defies semantic description. Understand?
Is make want go run buy listen listen sleep eat listen listen? Well,
good. Then I’ve done my job.—BS