Thursday, July 31, 2008

Should Have and Might Could

High on Stress--"Cop Light Parade" (mp3)
Game Theory--"Crash Into June" (mp3)

This is, by way of a couple of other songs, a semi-negative review of Paul Westerberg's 49:00. I'm sure you know the deal by now--download for 49 cents and get an entire album's worth of new songs and partial songs, with the catch, or novelty, that it's all one track.

I see the novelty, maybe even the cleverness of the approach, but I don't really see the point. I'm all for artists putting out their own music and bypassing the ridiculous percentages a record company takes, and I'm all for lo-fi recording. So it isn't either of those. It's the fact that the whole thing is supposed to play as one track when it's of such uneven quality, which means a listener has to do a lot of work to get to what he really wants to hear. And it's uneven in such a strange way--there aren't any bad songs. I mean it is Paul Westerberg, after all, but some seem kind of unmemorable and some we really don't get enough of a taste of to make a judgement.

The standout track to me, so far, is one of the earlier ones called, I'm guessing, "The Devil Raised a Good Boy." I also read in another review that there's a really nice ballad around the 36:00 minute mark. But what is the artistic statement being made by forcing me to wade through snippets and half-finished ideas in order to find the gems I really enjoy?

Like many others, I've been enjoying Paul Westerbrg's music for a long time, from the raunchy "Gary's Got a Boner" to the catchy "Dyslexic Heart" to the calmly vitriolic "Silent Film Star" (as performed by Grandpaboy). I liked the home recorder songs on 14 Songs like "Black Eyed Susan" and "Even Here We Are." But it feels like things are getting sloppy. Is the idea that everything P.W. does is worth hearing so all of it comes out in whatever version is lying around, even if his son turned off the recording half way through the song? Is 49 cents for a great songwriter's work supposed to be some kind of ironic bargain? I don't know. If so, put me on record as saying I'm not looking for a bargain. I'm happy to pay for an artist's best work. That being said, I can't imagine not downloading 49:00 and adding it to your collection. What is there to lose?

By contrast, just for fun, thrown on Thick As A Brick by Jethro Tull, if you have a copy anywhere. One album, two sides, two tracks (it would be one track if made today on cd). I don't know what you think of prog rock these days (I still love it, I admit), but you'd still have to admire the craftsmanship and care that it took to put that magnum opus together. Who knows what the whole damn thing means, but everytime it switches to a new section, it sure is listenable.

I also offer a couple of other interesting songs. We have reached the point in our blogging career that people are starting to send us their music. Of the music we've received, there was one song I really liked, by a group called High On Stress. When you play the song, you'll hear that they wear their Paul Westerberg influence on their sleeve, but part of that homage is the kind of song with well-crafted lyrics and a memorable chorus that Westerberg is so capable of. You might hear a little Ryan Adams from the Whiskeytown era in there, too. You can get a fuller sense of the band at their website (link below).

The other song, "Crash Into June" by Game Theory, is one that Bush played for me a long time ago and I had forgotten about, but it has such an earnest, late 80's feel to it and summer is sadly winding down, and it seemed like a good time to hear it.

Best of luck to High On Stress with their upcoming CD release, and regrets to Game Theory that they never quite made it. You can download the new Westerberg here or visit High On Stress' myspace page to hear more of their songs.


Billy said...

Oh, to offer my own counterpoint in defense of Paul in a separate blog post, or to write a lengthy response ala Tommy... decisions decisions...

Billy Bob said...

Please, Billy, no more Jersey-style missives. When my "competition" post comes up in a day or so, I'll be hearing from someone near Princeton.

Billy said...

If Paul was wanting to be heard by more people with one marketing gimmick than have heard him, collectively, in 15 years, then this was a brilliant move.

To me, Paul's album is like going to one of his concerts, or most concerts, for that matter. You enjoy huge chunks of it, but other parts are totally dismissable, and that's when you go get more beer or take a piss.

The only difference is, this was the cheapest f*&kin' concert in history, with better sound, and I don't have to look at Paul's ugly mug.

However, if he doesn't follow this up -- and within the year -- with an actual bona fide "traditional" album at a reasonable cost, so that he can reap the rewards of this attempt at expanding his fan base, then at that point, I'll be wondering exactly why he was doing what he did here.