Monday, April 12, 2004

Mainstream Monday

My little sister has mentioned from time to time that it might be nice if I wrote about a band that she's heard of. Today might be the day (maybe).

For a band that sings about going to the record store to buy some Gang of Four and the Beatles' Revolver (and on vinyl, no less), Fastball sure have a lot of songs on their forthcoming Keep Your Wig On that would fit nicely into Patrick Bateman's music collection . The album opens with a slew of classic with a capital C rock tunes, including a Randy Newman-esque snoozer called I Get High that would sound perfect in a Pixar feature if Pixar ever releases a movie about a bunch of lovable alcoholics. About halfway through, Fastball seem to conclude that they've fulfullied some sort of obligation, and out comes the Beatles/Elvis (Costello) pop that made them one of the rare mainstream guitar rock bands worth paying attention to in the late 90's. I always wonder about groups like this: I don't hear them as an indie band with a fluke hit (or two), but rather as a solidly Classic band who, against all odds, manage to sneak some interesting stuff past the guards. Last I heard, they were back to playing small clubs, but it seems at least possible that Keep Your Wig On (out on Ryko in June, I think) could make some waves with the Walmart set, especially if they get a commercial tie in...I'm thinking Budweiser. Here's Perfect World, which reminds me an awful lot of what (fellow Texans) Cotton Mather might sound like after a semester or two at Rock School [if you don't know Cotton Mather, their Kon-Tiki album is one of the more essential lo-fi/60's-influenced albums out there]. And here's Our Misunderstanding, and if that isn't a sly tip of the hat to Belle & Sebastian at the very beginning of the song, I for one am surprised. [I have a promo copy of the CD, and there's something odd about the sound. I don't know if it's some sort of copy protection or what, but the crackling you may hear is there on mine as well.]

Semisonic, would be the other band-worth-watching (that I'm aware of) who got popular in the later 90's-early 00's. Yes, Closing Time. I know. I don't like it either, nor much of anything else off of Feeling Strangely Fine. But, their follow-up to that, All About Chemistry was a really fun album with some amazing production smeared all over a bunch of catchy pop tunes. It's another good example of what mainstream rock can do at its best, and I'm not indie-snob enough to dislike it. The song of theirs that really blows me away, though, is from their first EP. Pleasure, kind of like Fastball's product, sits on the Classic Rock wall with one foot dangling over into the land of more-interesting things. The first time I heard Wishing Well, I started off thinking it was going to be a boring lighter-in-the-air ballad, but instead the band suddenly decides to be influenced by Queen and spirals off into an over-the-top extravaganza with huge backing vocals and a pretty May-esque guitar solo to wind things up. Not bad for a band that Allmusic compares (like Fastball) to the Wallflowers (though Semisonic's indie side is a little less hard to fathom, as they started out as Twin/Tone band Trip Shakespear). Semisonic have a website here with all sorts of mp3s/videos here.

Just to follow up on something, the subject of the loop from Scott Johnson's John Somebody came up in the comments section of my April 5th post. I tried googling an anser, but failed, and finally just emailed Scott Johnson to ask. Surprisingly, he answered a few hours later. So here's what he said about it (I asked him what the story was behind the quote):

I never knew about any story, and that's part of the point. I never met John. I was doing a little random audio collecting in 1976-7, and I stuck a mic in front of the phone, and asked a friend to call anybody up and talk about anything. I couldn't have asked for anything more completely faceless than what happened at one point: "....John somebody - he was a, sort of a...." So I made an anthem to anonymity. Everyone is just somebody to most everyone else. We know they are more to themselves, but it will never matter much to us on an individual level: there are just too many of us. A little poignant, a little ridiculous.

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