Friday, March 11, 2011

90's Hit Parade #81



Mike Watt - Max and Wells

It seems a regular topic of discussion these days is whether the rise of the mp3 is contributing to the death of the album. I don't really worry about it, for a couple of reasons. The first is that changes to the market always look apocalyptic when viewed from the past, and unremarkable when viewed from the future. I mean, you look at the birth of recorded music. That was a HUGE change. Before that, families used to gather around the piano or on the front porch after dinner to sing songs and play instruments. That's an entire way of life that's gone forever. Would you trade your favorite albums to have that back?

The other reason is that, as much as I love albums, I really think of the song as the basic unit of rock and roll. I love when an album adds up to more than the sum of it's songs, as all my favorite albums do, and this is kind of a silly false dichotomy, but...I guess what I'm saying is, if you set out to write 10 great songs (or write 20 great songs, and pick out the 10 that fit together), you'll be more likely to end up with a coherent album than you would be to end up with 10 great songs if you set out to write a great album. Man, that's a tortured sentence.

So I guess what I'm saying is, I'm a little luke-warm on the idea of "concept albums," or at least "rock operas," but there are times when the songs on an album just fit so well that it almost seems like one long song. Mike Watt's all-star jam, Ball Hog or Tug Boat?, fits that bill. There are sections of this album where three or four songs almost sound like a prog-rock suite. "Max and Wells," for instance, coming off of the intensity of the Henry Rollins-fronted "Sexual Military Dynamics," sounds more like the slow section of the previous song than a song unto itself. It feels, at first, more like a platform for an epic J. Mascis guitar solo than a song.

Back when Ball Hog came out, this wouldn't have been my choice for a song from this album (which is just STUFFED with great songs). But over the years, it has worked its way into my brain. "Max and Wells" has some of my favorite inspirational lyrics (sung by Mark Lannigan--I'm not sure who's playing drums here, but they're doing a hell of a job):

Max and Wells decided to come alive
Walked out the store and stared Today right in the eye
Said "What you want from us, cuz we came to deal with you
Came to work with our hands, came to think things through."

I like how low-key this song is, a strange tone for a pep talk, but the lyrics don't really sound like they'd work in an "Eye of the Tiger" type song. It's just very matter-of-fact: you gotta deal with life, bro.

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