say your piece
ISSUE NO.
155 30 OCTOBER 2003
 
theBeat
RED Reviews
By Brent Sallay, Jeremy Mathews, Jamie Gadette and Hayley Heaton
 

Room On Fire
The Strokes
RCA


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 depth.

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


Luxor
Robyn Hitchcock
Editions PAF!

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 way.”

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


Dear Catastrophe Waitress
Belle and Sebastian
Rough Trade

(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 entry-level employee.

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 folk.

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 ’em.—BS


Winter Hymn Country Hymn Secret Hymn
Do Make Say Think
Constellation

(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 make forgive.

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 Tortoise.

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 your music.

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

 
     
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