My thoughts on what I’ve listened to in the car this week:
Monday May 25th: The Cure – The Head On The Door. It’s been a long time in coming, but this has finally edged its way into the lead as my favourite Cure album, I think. It’s an interesting album, one that is remarkably more than the sum of its parts. It only had two singles (“In Between Days” and “Close To Me”), neither of which were particularly massive compared to songs like “Boys Don’t Cry,” “Friday I’m In Love,” “Love Song,” and others in that vein. As a complete unit though, it is, to me at least, remarkably successful. It manages to fit beautifully in the space between their earlier, harder-edged work, and their later, more-bombastic work like Disintegration and Wish. More about this tomorrow.
Tuesday May 26th: The Cure – The Head On The Door (con’t). As I implied earlier, this album is definitely worth listening to straight through (ideally on vinyl, in the dark, as my Dad would agree), but I need to get into some specifics. Two songs in particular stand out for me; “Six Different Ways,” and the second single “Close To Me.” Latter first, I actually had to do some careful searching for that link, as there are other versions, but this one is specific to Head On The Door (and in my mind, superior to the others). There’s some fantastic horns in this, and it’s potentially the only time I’ve heard breathy gasps that I liked in place of more traditional vocals. The lyrics are quite simple but not without weight; many of the songs are like the album, that is to say, greater than the sum of their parts.
“Six Different Ways” has some shades of what’s to come on Disintegration and Wish, but the big synth and piano theme gives way to some very simple melodies with some slyly deep lyrics. I know the words by heart but even now I only have the vaguest sense of what they might mean. Fantastically, one commenter online said that the lyrics are about telling different stories to journalists about song meanings over and over… and then the following comments say that it’s actually about multiple personalities, another says it’s about a conversation Robert Smith with Simon Gallup about how many ways there are to skin a cat (“It’s definitely six ways”), that it’s about having a revolver held to your head, with six bullets, “Six different ways,” he said, “I’ll tell them anything at all.” So maybe it is about contradictory stories about the meaning of the lyrics. I don’t even know. Great song.
Wednesday May 27th: Pixies – Trompe Le Monde. This album is certainly one of the.. well I was going to say “weirdest” albums by the Pixies, but I hesitate to quantify the weirdness of any recording by a band deeply associated with the phrase “Wave of Mutilation”. It’s certainly out there, though. Way out there. Extraterrestrial, in fact. The whole album is peppered with themes of extraterrestriality, but it’s probably the clearest in the songs “Bird Dream Of The Olympus Mons,” a reference to the largest mountain on Mars for anybody not in the know, and “Motorway To Roswell,” the tale of a poor alien who ends up in the wrong place at the wrong time. Unfortunately, being released in 1991, this album had to compete with Nevermind, Metallica’s black album, and Pearl Jam’s debut album Ten, among other things, and never quite got the love I think it deserves. More thoughts on it tomorrow.
Thursday May 28th: Pixies – Trompe Le Monde (con’t). At 15 tracks and only about 30 minutes, there are a lot of short songs on this album, and listening to it is a bit of a whirlwind of sound. The first song, also called Trompe Le Monde, kind of gives you a sense of what you might be in for. The shorter ones are among my favourites, but I’ve always had an appreciation for a song that knows that brevity has a power all its own (see Stella Ella Ola’s I Think We Should Hang Out All The Time for a masterclass in the power of brevity). I don’t want to post links to the whole album on youtube one song at a time, but I’m also a big fan of “Letter to Memphis”, “Distance Equals Rate Times Time”, and “The Navajo Know.” There’s something about how the first song starts and the last song ends that makes it feel, to me, like I came into something after it started and left before it ended, but that sense of only getting a snipped of the middle really works for me, here. Find this album, give it a listen, maybe let me know what you think.
Friday May 29th: NOFX – The War On Errorism. This album came out in 2003, I would have been fifteen, though I don’t think I got a hold of this album until a couple years later. Not unlike a teenage male, this album sure as hell ain’t subtle, and it’s not particularly mature either. The opening number, “The Separation of Church and Skate,” asks the question: “When did punk rock become so safe?” Unfortunately for them, listening to much of the rest of the album just makes me ask, “When did punk rock become so elitist?” You’ve got “Franco Un-American”, which mocks the politically disengaged, you’ve got “Medio-core,” which mocks what the band sees as weak music, and at its peak-asshole, the album has “The Idiots Are Taking Over.” An excerpt from the lyrics:
Mensa membership conceding Tell me why and how are all the stupid people breeding Watson, it's really elementary The industrial revolution Has flipped the bitch on evolution ... And I'm starting to feel a lot like Charlton Heston Stranded on a primate planet Apes and orangutans that ran it to the ground With generals and the armies that obeyed them
There’s a lot inspired by Idiocracy in there, of course. I could do the takedown myself, but I prefer to send it over to Randall Munroe and his webcomic XKCD:
This sort of elitism hasn’t been great for punk, or for any previously-unpopular sort of music or subculture. Gaming, comics, and other things considered traditionally nerdy are dealing with similar issues now, policing fandom (as suggested in “Separation…” and “Medio-core”) and ascribing superiority to the “true followers” (as suggested in “The Idiots Are Taking Over” and “Franco Un-American”).
Before any punk gets too hoighty-toighty about the state of punk music today, or in the 90s/early 2000s, I just want to point out that the Ramones did “I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend“, and “Rock & Roll Highschool,” so let’s maybe get off our high horses, eh?
The album’s not all bad, though. Tomorrow I’ll talk about the better parts of it.
Saturday May 30th: NOFX – The War On Errorism (con’t). One of the best parts of the album is what happens when the band engages in a little utopia-building without directly putting anybody down. Two songs in particular, “Anarchy Camp,” and “Mattersville” embody this sort of exercise. The more famous of the pair, “Anarchy Camp” describes a summer camp for anarchists, where, “everyone who’s no one will be participating,” and, “random acts of dumbness will be rewarded.” In true anarchist style, “if you see somebody taking charge, you’ll be expected to beat them.” While a little immature in its politics, the whole effect of the song is quite charming, though not half as charming as “Mattersville,” which I think is my favourite song on the album. It describes a gated retirement community for “punks over the hill,” in true anarchist style. “Cops can’t come in”, and “we can do whatever we want, whenever we please.” My favourite line, though, is the one that awkwardly rhymes, “Duane and Stevie Cab they still skateboard / But most of us lawn bowl and shuffleboard / We may be getting ripe but we ain’t bored.” Yeah, that’s board, rhymed with board, rhymed with bored.
When the album hits its politics right, it really hits them right. The second last song on the album, “Re-Gaining Unconsciousness” opens its first verse with the following lyrics:
First they put away the dealers, Keep our kids safe and off the street. Then they put away the prostitutes, Keep married men cloistered at home. Then they shooed away the bums, Then they beat and bashed the queers, Turned away asylum-seekers, Fed us suspicions and fears. We didn't raise our voice, We didn't make a fuss. It's funny there was no one left to notice When they came for us.
A clear and obvious reference to Niemöller’s “First They Came…” statement. When I first heard this earlier today, I was ready to write off the song for putting some equivalencies out of whack, but as I got out of the car, and started delivering my last round of papers, I began to consider each of the issues raised by this verse in turn, and I slowly turned around on the song. It’s brash, yes, but not offensive, I think, because I can point to news stories from the past year or two related to all of these issues. Recent Tory attack ads in Canada have gone after Justin Trudeau for being in favour of legalizing marijuana. New laws in Canada have pressed hard on sex workers. More American cities are making it illegal to feed the homeless. Despite advances in parts of the world, many places including Russia still link homosexuality to pedophilia. Australia can’t seem to get their shit together on asylum seekers (and they’re not the only ones). All of these issues are relevant today, and if the language used to broach those issues by NOFX catches our attention, I think that’s a feature and not a bug.
Overall, the album is brash, unsubtle, and immature, but not without points of interest and not without redeeming features. Probably worth a listen, if you’re feeling nostalgic for 2003, but really, I have to wonder.. who is?