Thursday, January 18, 2007

I know when somebody's lying

I like depressing music. Love it. For whatever reason, it puts me in a good mood. Maybe it lets me put things in perspective: "at least I am not addicted to the drugs!" or "perhaps horrifying cancer IS worse than being bored on a Tuesday!" I like the morose (Morrissey, performer of such classics as "Life is a Pigsty") and the downright sad (Oh, Elliott Smith!). While song for song, I enjoy the aforementioned artists more than others, I have to say that my favorite genre of sad music is "lonesome." Willie Nelson perfected it, but Chris Isaak is perhaps the modern, miserable equivalent.

It's hard to say what makes music "lonesome" as opposed to "sad." Obviously there's the definitional differences between the two--lonesome is specifically about a lack of something, whereas sad is more general. However, I would characterize lonesome music with its soulful singers and spare instrumentation. Most of the music on Forever Blue is performed on nothing but acoustic guitars, bass, and light drums. There are sometime occurrences of horns and keys, but they are used conservatively throughout the music.

This particular album (which I got for about three bucks at a going-out-of-business sale) is probably best known for its first two tracks. "Baby Did a Bad Bad Thing" exudes raw sexuality, and later came to underscore the hardcore, Kubrickian love of famous midget Tom Cruise and his then-wife Nicole Kidman. "Somebody's Crying" is probably the saddest song on the album and the biggest hit. You might better remember it as "That song that causes everybody to mislabel Chris De Burgh's 'Lady in Red' as a Chris Isaak song on P2P servers." Both of these songs are wonderful, but they're merely the tip of the iceberg that is one of the best miserablist albums of the nineties.

While "Somebody's Crying" is easily the most memorable and singable song on the disc, the third track, "Graduation Day," is the actual album standout. The sad soundscape is potentially the best fit for that feeling that I'm assuming we all got upon our high-school graduation, or any time that we hit a benchmark that will change the remainder of our lives: complete and utter hollowness. "Driving slowly, watching the headlights in the rain/Funny how things change," and later "A million dreams have all gone bad." Yeah, it's depressing, but I know I'm not the only one who felt the same thing when I got out of school. This one will definitely be on my iPod come my college graduation in May.

To only delve into one song is a discredit to the rest of the album, which is equally soul-crushingly beautiful. However, this is not (yet). The disc is thirteen songs that are incredibly moving, but never overstay their welcome (no track hits the four-minute mark). It's easy to overproduce the music of a brilliant, primarily-acoustic songwriter (see: Dan Bern's Breathe and Mike Errico's Pictures of the Big Vacation, for starters). There is a delicate balance struck here, where the music is definitely polished but still sounds like a live band, perhaps in the corner of a dank New Orleans bar. It's a recommended disc if you like sad music. If yer walkin' on sunshine? Come back to the real world already.

Chris Isaak: Graduation Day

1 comment:

Maggie said...

I wish I had even half of your writing talent! Gah, it frustrates me. Thanks for the offer... if I actually come up with some topics and manage to get them done, I'll be sure to send them your way. :) Oh, and I downloaded Baby Britain by Elliot Smith and I like it a lot! :)