Wednesday, January 5, 2000

Soap Opera Soundtrack

Posted By on Wed, Jan 5, 2000 at 12:00 AM

The Midwest is so flat, someone once told me you could watch your dog run away for days. Funny, but sad, I thought, this prolonged witnessing of the moment. One listen to Songs, Lullaby for the Working Class' third full-length offering and I couldn't help but think about the agony of prolonging the moment, especially if the moment is about struggles, bitterness or grief. Coating it in the loveliness of orchestrations of violins, cellos, upright bass and pedal steel neither dispels Lullaby's near-Kafkaesque lyrical content, nor lead singer Ted Steven's nasally vocals, reminiscent of Martin Fry, frontman for '80s one-hit wonders, ABC. Please, shoot that poison arrow through my heart. And fast.

Part of the "no depression" or alt-country scene (Smog, Palace, etc.), Oregon, Nebraska's Lullaby gives too much weight to "depression." Even the nearly uplifting rhythm of "Inherent Song" or "Sketchings on a Bar Room Napkin" does not compensate for a generally woeful theme of pessimistic, near-existential questioning: "Can you tell me what's important?" ("Expand, Contract"); "What good is one's toil underneath the sun?" ("Seizures"); and "Where have the good times gone?" ("Kitchen Song"). Add the Sartre-dreary questioning, the near-pretension of the lyrical phrasing and occasional string overkill, and the fairly interesting orchestration — such as the mandolin, hammer dulcimer, vibraphone and flügelhorn in "Asleep on the Subway" — cannot compete.

Amid the rough, there is a very small diamond: "Ghosts," a guitar-and-vocal piece, powerful in its raw, heartfelt simplicity and haunting back-up vocals, befits the alt-country tradition of fearlessly, honestly expressing sadness, loneliness and melancholy.

Why isn't the rest of the album as honest?

A.J. Duric writes about music for the Metro Times. E-Mail letters@metrotimes.com.

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