As many of you out there know, passengers, we are now entering our ’90’s phase in both music and clothing, the nation over. Girls can now be seen in looser-fitting tops (pants are another matter), and young teenagers beam before the opportunity to go see Billy Corgan and Marilyn Manson… do whatever Billy Corgan and Marilyn Manson would do together. It’s the IDEA that sells.
And boy do I have an idea for you: song titles that are spoof headlines, like articles from The Onion, delivered as geeky Midwestern monologues over the ’90’s house band, Yo La Tengo. Those who hate Ira Kaplan because he’s good looking and talented, beware: he even shows RESTRAINT here. Which can be a problem for, you know, people who own all the Yo La Tengo albums and carry a torch for them, wanting to be their biggest fan on Earth and not being able to accept a little fun here and there. Not everything is plangent romance in this band’s world, sometimes they’re just grooving out.
By entire coincidence, Jad Fair sounds a little like Brian McMahan of Slint. How better to follow up Spiderland than by expostulating in entire earnest and tortured glint the details of a monkey wallpapering someone’s comfortable home?
The comparisons to The Velvet Underground’s “The Gift” run rampant here, though the narrative in this case is actually written by the person reciting it (Fair), or so I assume. As with Reed’s late-’60’s vignette, the backing band is sparse, measured and systematic. These lyrical diatribes are set up as literary adventures, and it’s in this that their merit truly shines. The ease in Jad Fair’s voice, in contrast to someone who would excessively be trying to “sell it,” manifests as amusing authenticity, and he even manages to incorporate an unpredictability, in regards to his ability to be dramatic, meaning delivering more slowly and languidly, or cheeky, audibly knowing the ridiculousness of what he’s doing.
As is evidenced by The Clash’s “The Right Profile,” quality rock and roll and poignant, heartfelt lyrics are almost mutually exclusive. All you have to refer to for this is that bevy of complaint-rock we got in the ’00’s on mainstream radio, muscle-bound jocks berating us with their tales of the Iraq war, or miscellaneous relationship pulp. You would have Ira Kaplan thrown into that snake pit too, wouldn’t you, Strange but True hater.
This being said, it’s easy to see how this album emerges as the more appropriate discussion piece AFTER 9/11 (Strange But True came out in ’98), and AFTER the Iraq war, the comedy of military errors that made our country into a bumbling, lethal buffoon. Jad Fair is like that dork in the back of the class who has a smart-a** comment for everything, an omnipresent grin that would seem to give a feebler face muscle spasms, that guy you don’t even want to fight because he’s so apart from the physical realm, almost floating in space on an invincible plane of world-contusion.