Todd Snider/The Magnetic Fields
What's So Funny?
Todd Snider: Agnostic Hymns & Stoner Fables (Aimless/Thirty Tigers)
Musically, these are not complex songs, and although Snider's boyish air never seems forced and his good humor always comes with laughs, his 45-year-old voice bears the gravelly traces of many sleepless nights. Yet for the third time since he kicked opiates in 2004, he's scored a full album's worth of new material that remains completely in a character unique to him while adding something new to that character. This time what's new is a band sound shambolically anchored by John Prine's New Orleans-raised drummer Paul Griffith and cunningly colored by fiddler Amanda Shires. What's also new but less surprising is an ever more explicit and uncompromising class animus. One song names the Abacus Fund Goldman Sachs and John Paulson conned unions with. Another begs to differ with the privileged canard that living well is the best revenge. Uh-uh, Snider sez. Revenge is the best revenge. A
The Magnetic Fields: Love at the Bottom of the Sea (Merge)
These 15 song-puzzles in 34:20 are sophisticated amusements all, although often the amusement is attenuated and one I get bored with before half its 2:38 is over. How amusing they prove over time remains, of course, to be determined. Most amusing: "Your Girlfriend's Face" and "I'll Go Anywhere With Hugh" (tie). Most‑-sorry, it's the right word‑-soulful: "Andrew in Drag." I note for the record that all three are among the first five tracks. A MINUS
Lyrically-"Tommy" can be a head scratcher. I love
it musically. And lest we forget we're talking about music here.
I repeat- you had to be there -and not 11 years old.
Frapton-I'll see-thanks so much for your input-
and it was very kind what you did for Nick-who is a real good guy.
Irene-we'll see how it plays out.
Milo-it might be impossible to improve on "A Quick One While He's Away".
"Who's Next" ain't bad though.
Listening to Love at the Bottom of the Sea I'm delighted. But something's ... missing ... so I'm not delighted as I want to be. But the broken chemistry is hard to identify. Revisiting themes? Nah -- everybody does that. Bored with himself? Nah -- that's too harsh and the new synthesizer workouts are full of innovations and explorations. His older electronics don't sound dated, exactly, but he's moved past them with confidence. Maybe it's something as nebulous as that Merritt doesn't boost the songs over that final notch so there's a pop behind your eyes and you wonder how-does-he-do-that? But yeah, "Andrew in Drag" is as alert and resourceful as anything he's done.
Even so ...
Winners of this afternoon's Having More Fun Than Stephin Merritt contest:
Balkan Beat Box, Give
Homeboy Sandman, The Good Sun
Well, Where Do You Go After the Top is a long-term strategy -- a whole phase or series of them -- more than the next album. And while I don't consider Achtung a [bomb] like Bob, I don't think it's any great shakes, either. Top of that, I'm not as enamored of All That You Can't Leave Behind as Bob is. To me, U2 is fundamentally a live experience, where the phenomenon flowing around you is the meaning, apart from any substance or analysis. Bono is as born for the biggest stage possible as any performer I've seen. As a poet/philosopher/seer of pop, er, he's not down there with the guys short enough to walk in under the door, but he's not going to be bumping his head on any ceilings anytime soon.
Zep is an interesting case. I suspect they were close to tapped out, even if death didn't hit the final paradiddle. Still, they sustained a helluva lot longer than people often remember -- eight years after hitting the top, and it would have been truly impressive if How the West Was Won could replace Song Remains the Same. Plant going solo resets the question: has he ever gotten a smidge as big as Zeppelin? No. I've liked his post-Zep material a lot more than Bob, however.
Finally: after reading about the comparisons people were drawing about "Girls in Their Summer Clothes", I've begun to wonder if Springsteen's (much) later records might all be a lot better if they were sung and produced/arranged by Stephin Merritt. Think about it. (All apologies to Greg Morton!)
Fiona Apple is apparently in slacker mode these days. The title of her new album is only twenty three words long: The Idler Wheel is wiser than the Driver of the Screw, and Whipping Cords will serve you more than Ropes will ever do.
Still, kinda catchy, doncha think?
Rich, Milo: I agree with most of what you two have said re Springsteen's recorded output post-Tunnel of Love. I'll just add that even though most of it was recorded in 1978, 2010's outtakes mishmash The Promise has some pretty great moments on it. It's nice to be reminded how much fun he used to be before the burden of being The Boss turned his every utterance to self-important sludge.
(Fairness compels me to add that if you've caught him parodying himself on Jimmy Fallon lately, it's clear that he still has a sense of humor, even if it is absent on his recent albums.)
The two best shots that come to mind are Neil Young [...] and Lou Reed [...].
"The Best Magnetic Fields album on Merge since 69 Love Songs!!!!!"
I'd like to put in a word for Bruce Springsteen on an aspect of his career that I've been mulling over and tracking since I wrote about Born in the USA.
At that point, Springsteen was confronted with a potent, even deadly, conundrum: Where Do You Go From the Top? The full magnitude and pressures only apply to superstars.
It's a toughie. Elvis didn't have an answer. John Lennon stumbled with it, though he may ultimately have recovered, we'll never know. Michael Jackson didn't have an answer. Aretha Franklin did honorably, but beyond unevenly. By the standards of their youth, the Rolling Stones didn't have an answer -- they cranked out mediocrities until they became fixtures in the Hall of Frozen Fame (though Bigger Bang was a much-needed punctuation to confirm greatness). U2 didn't have an answer. Bob Dylan came up with a better score sheet long term, but first he punted it for even longer. The two best shots that come to mind are Neil Young (exception that proves rule, maybe) and Lou Reed (who never quite got to the top, maybe).
I think Springsteen belongs among the After the Top elite. He conquered the final world he'd never addressed with Tunnel of Love. But he's never been obviously lazy or detached since then. And I appreciate trying too hard more than not trying enough. Wisely selected late-period Springsteen tracks would make as vigorous a retrospective as anything Lou could come up with. Arguably, anyway.
It is instructive to compare Wrecking Ball with Todd Snider's musically straightforward, more plainspoken, and less self-important take on basically the same subject matter, however.
The other day I was listening to Cooder's Pull Up Some Dust and thought about how thrilled I would be if Bruce came up with something even close to the pinpoint anger and disgust, not to mention the loose musical feel, on display on that album. Bruce hasn't released an album as good as Pull Up Some Dust in 25 years (of course, it was a good deal better: Tunnel of Love). This makes me even more excited about picking up the new Snider.
I heard they are driving to Seattle for
a one night stand soonNews to me, but fantastic if true. Or is that just sarcasm?
1: We should meet up! I think Wussy was a big deal mostly because they don't tour and rarely perform outside of their home turf.
2: I always preferred Daltrey's voice post-testical drop. He still sings so high on Tommy.
3: Indeed. I laughed out loud.
4. I've told Irene about the EMP Pop Conference. She said she and Jock Rothko might be able to make the first night (even thought that would be her last night in town. There is the opening keynote discussion titled, "The Aritst in the City" that includes Santigold, Esperanza Spalding and Heems. That might be a fun way to get together. If not some other night. Don't worry about your age. We can all meet up somewhere/sometime.
Some how "Tommy" is becoming underrated as the years go by. 1969-I guess you had to be there-I was there. What sounded profound to an eleven year old now just sounds f*cking silly. (Quadrophenia works better as both music and story, despite the annoying horns on some tracks.)
1) How come we all aren't meeting to
see Todd Snider at Irving Plaza tomorrow (Thursday) night?
If Wussy-why not Todd?
2) Some how "Tommy" is becoming underrated as the years go
by. 1969-I guess you had to be there-like me. This album was the word.
3) Mike Tatum is very funny.
4) Irene is coming to NYC and wants to meet some of us-I
would oblige except being old enough to be her father/grandfather? might cause
people to talk-especially my significant other.
5) Did Wussy get home yet? I heard they are driving to Seattle for
a one night stand soon. I advise against it.
6) Thanks again Patrick. The courtesy of your reply would be appreciated btw.
about the blogger
Starting in 1967, Robert Christgau has covered popular music for The Village Voice, Esquire, Blender, Playboy, Rolling Stone, and many other publications. He teaches in New York University's Clive Davis Department of Recorded Music, maintains a comprehensive website at robertchristgau.com, and has published five books based on his journalism. He has written for MSN Music since 2006.