Monday, December 11, 2006

Let's not get metaphysical

#17 The Lucksmiths, Why That Doesn’t Surprise Me (Candle / Drive-In, 2001)

This one makes me nervous. A good kind of nervous, but nonetheless. I want to be downright evangelistic with the Lucksmiths, a 3-piece pop band from Australia. Their output, up to eight full-lengths since 1993, contains a string of consistently remarkable, well-crafted pop music. Their songs are catchy, moving, beautiful, and at times giddy (and at other times all those at once). I appreciate the music of outfits like Belle and Sebastian and Magnetic Fields (both of whom just might appear before too long on my countdown – don’t hate me because I’m sensitive), but in my opinion, the Lucksmiths outshine the rest of the indie-pop universe. OK, to orient ourselves, let’s go to Belle and Sebastian for comparison. The Lucksmiths radiate an accepting, yet optimistic world-weariness and a buoyant joy not quite present in B&S’s winking, cynical knowingness. Also, our heroes show a literate and understated sense of humor and whimsy that is most always less studied and more likeable. Man, go listen to some Lucksmiths.

But since we are ranking our top 25 albums, not our top 25 bands, it might be worth asking why the Lucksmiths are so relatively low on my list. True, this entry might be more for the Lucksmiths’ gesammelte Werke than for this particular record (Naturaliste and The Green Bicycle Case are just about as good). I love this album, even if it’s less an album for a generation than an album for an afternoon, and Why That Doesn’t Surprise Me has a humble feel to it that somehow doesn’t seem appropriate for a “TOP 25 OF ALL TIME” list. In other words, it’s ephemeral and wears that on its sleeve: the first track, for example, announces, “I could never understand you/ hating music to hold hands to/ sometime something you can dance to/ is the last thing that you need.” While most of rock and roll music seems to have been all about the impossible search for the intense experience, the elusive and always-postponed Satisfaction, The Lucksmiths content themselves with the very real, very attainable pleasure of holding hands.

So saying that this record is ephemeral is not an insult – so is the best of pop music! And so is a sunbeam, and a good Lucksmiths song can be as joyful as a blast of warmth on an early spring day or as fleetingly profound as a long shadow cast across a room in autumn. This is not Sad Bastard music; yes, several songs have and air of (sometimes deep) melancholy (“Broken Bones,” “First Cousin,” “All the Recipes I’ve Ever Ruined”), but the tone is never set to “junior-high journal self-pity.” In that sense, The Lucksmiths represent a more mature kind of pop. Instead of fixating on the sad loner stuck in his room with his Morrissey posters (though how much admittedly excellent pop music comes from that banal and pathetic point of view?), The Lucksmiths’ music always deals with the grown-up (or striving toward grown-up) life of love, relationships, and friendships. Accordingly the sense of humor is kind of dad-like. These songs are peppered with puns and wordplay (so all you sourpuss pun haters out there beware!). I’ll spare you a whole list, but a particularly good one comes in “Synchronized Sinking,” the most ebullient and catchy number on the record: “come on – please get it off your chest / it’s a commonplace but I’d suggest…” Also, the title of this post comes from my favorite one, a lesson in life and love by way of Olivia Newton-John: “I find it strange/ that these mountains make me miserable/ when the Great Dividing Range/ merely proves we’re indivisible/ Let’s not get metaphysical.”

Now to why I am nervous about this whole thing. I have to admit that every single time I’ve picked up a new Lucksmiths album (including this one), I have been slightly disappointed at first. This doesn’t mean that their career has regressed from their early works – far from it – but with each new album, I unconsciously expect a blast of pop awesomeness. And, except for a few songs (here, “Synchronized Sinking,” “Don’t Bring Your Work to Bed,” and a couple others), it doesn’t come. Rather, each new album’s pleasures are to be found in the discovery of repeated listens. I realize that I am offering a contradiction here – ephemeral pop that takes several listens to realize itself – but I also think that I am just trying to hedge my bets. Having told everyone out there about the Best Pop Band, I’m afraid people won’t like it. Well, if you like it, good times, and if you don’t that can be OK too. I said at the top that I want to evangelize about The Lucksmiths, and I do. Being an Episcopalian, however, by nature I can’t really be that evangelistic.


jphillip said...

I would be open for joining another forum dedicated solely to sad bastard music.

Big Cougar said...

This one about fulfills the quota.