Denver Bar Association
May 2004
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Music Curmudgeon Declares Year a Blast

by Greg Rawlings

As much as I would like to be my usual curmudgeonly self and declare this another wasted waste of a year musically, I’d be lying if I did so. 2003–2004 has been a blast, actually. Lotsa good records by lotsa good artists; too many to mention here, so I’ll focus on the crème de la crème.

First off, anyone who thinks great pop rock music is a thing of the past needs to listen to "The Electric Version" by Canadian supergroup, The New Pornographers. This record is so
perversely catchy that even the coolest postmod thinker might not catch the snappy quote from Wittgenstein’s "Tractacus Logico-Philosophicus" that centers one of the songs. Now that’s snappy. By the way, it’s LW’s Proposition 1 for the uninitiated. This record sounds like something the Monkees might have made with the Cars during a debauched long weekend in Vancouver.

On the opposite end of the peppy spectrum is Cat Powers’ latest exercise in self-lacerating autobio-folk-blues, "You Are Free." Free to suffer. Free to confront your abuse. Free to pose in a near-pornographic photo in the New Yorker (if you’re Cat). This record will wreck your world, and you’ll love it for doing so.

Also in the "jeez where’s the Prozac" school of depressing but brilliant folk-rock is Lucinda Williams’ dazzling ode to Twin Cities hermit saint Paul Westerberg’s, "World Without Tears." This isn’t Lucinda’s best record—no crime, considering she’s already made three of the best records of the past 15 years—but man, does it stick with you. A buddy of mine wants to marry her just to save her from all the drunken, drug-addled musicians (I’m thinking mainly bass players and drummers) who’ve made her life such a darkly poetic living hell. Then again, sometimes it’s best to let the real artists of your time self-destruct and reflect in the macabre beauty of their demise.

Speaking of that kinda rock star, Eels checked in with "Shootenanny." It’s no "Electro Shock Blues," the best basement pop album of the ‘90s, but it ain’t bad. As a prosecutor, I can’t help but love a song called "Restraining Order Blues." Then again, this is from an artist who has songs called "Going to Your Funeral Part I," "My Descent into Madness," and, of course, "Going to Your Funeral Part II." And God forbid I omit that hip little ditty, "The Medication is Wearing Off." All on one album. I love this stuff.

From the wilds of NJ, The Wrens weigh in with their first album in eight years, "The Meadowlands." It is an ode to wasted opps and writer’s block; it’s also indubitably brilliant. With touches of Mission of Burma and the better side of U2, this is as catchy as avante-pop gets.

Also hailing from the great NJ, Yo La Tengo makes up for it’s first mediocre album, "Summer Sun," with a brilliant EP, "Today is the Day." When Georgia Hubley sings Bert Jansch’s underground classic, "Needle of Death," it’ll chill your spine. But the rest of the EP pretty much rocks. And speaking of R-O-C-K, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs "Fever to Tell" has to be heard to be believed; this is antic febrile music of the first degree.

Penultimately, when Paul Westerberg, the single greatest songwriter of the past 25 years, puts out not one but two albums (plus a DVD!) it’s major news. Maybe only Paul could cover a Jackson Browne song and still be a paragon of cool; then again, he covered Kiss, for God’s sake, on the epochal Replacements album "Let it Be." Some men have no fear.

And last, but not least, Denver country rockers The Reals (Hi, Kevin) released the excellent "Majestic." While focus has been on their killer cover of "Pallet," the originals are sweet, and, trust me, do not miss the live show. Till next time . . .


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