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“Hashing out the Late-’90’s Posture of Abrasiveness Nagging ‘Circles’”

Hey Tchad Blake, you know how you advised Soul Coughing against including the song “Circles” on El Oso, which you produced? Are you sure you didn’t mean that they should throw away the rest of the album OTHER than “Circles”?

Oh, I know, I know, I know what it is — it was the great “fleecing” of the mainstream of the ’90’s. We learned to alienate things universally palatable and pleasing, forever in favor of the unorthodox or vanguard (this is still the commercial ascension of Radiohead and Bjork), until finally, the mainstream shoved us back, breeding 3 Doors Down and “It’s Getting Hot in Here.”
Boy, were we begging for a regressive approximation on radio of “Circles” by the mid-’00’s, after the deluge of MORALITY, MORALITY, MORALITY (it’s almost as if Queens of the Stone Age’s “God is in the Radio” were as foretelling as it were commenting) — wherever we turned it was these overachievers wanted to be “wake(en) up inside,” or for you to love them while they’re gone, fighting in the war like a good ol’ Johnny Perfect… whatever happened to just smelling sex and candy on “too much caffeine,” and having everything fall into place like a slouching anti-hero? Half the radio music in the ’00’s made you WISH some shrapnel would hit you already.
But, the late ’90’s were the opposite extreme, let’s face it. Never during the W. admin. could you have had, or did you have, “The Fleecing of America” (there is actually no wikipedia blurb on “The Fleecing of America,” which was a subversive wrongdoing-exposing segment on one of the major nightly national news outlets, and this doesn’t entirely shock me).
Besides producer Tchad Blake, I remember one of the founding pitchfork writers, I think Brent Discrescenzo, spitting bile at “Circles,” calling it the product of corporate America, but his language in divulging the reason for this manifests as vague, and the iTunes scribe relaying the Blake bit fails, or sees unfit, to level any explicit compunction, preferring instead the terms “simple but effective.”
In a way, it seems like a vote of confidence in the rest of the album, that these tastemakers would clash with “Circles”’ addition, but El Oso is by far the least critically-acclaimed Soul Coughing LP, and not at all without reason. Seemingly made to intentionally fail to cohere, the 50-or-so-minute journey is somewhat like a haunted house, filled partly with songs like the first two whose only claim to relevance seems to be their obstinacy in being deliberately bad — songs without an especial grounding in melody, and which what’s more, adhere obnoxiously to conventional verse/chorus pop structures like some peppy cheerleader, bubbly and exuberant to follow the mold, with no actual unique substance, no trademark to provide.
I mean I get that this is kind of Soul Coughing’s “shtick” — they want to offend, and be deliberately weird (Discrescenzo likened them to an art student who’s “more talented than everyone else” but just sits in back doodling, or something like that)… still, the sheer weight of the debacle folding in upon “Circles” is undeniable. I mean, it’s literally scary to think of what El Oso would be without it, especially giving that all the other melody is buried on side B (“$300,” “Fully Retractable,” “So Far I Have Not Found the Science”). El Oso would be more like a hip-hop album without “Circles,” and maybe this is what the powers that be wanted (of course, not the ACTUAL powers that be), but truly, that’s not the band’s strength — if it were, Doughty’s subsequent solo career wouldn’t be filled with such gushing chordal palette, which you’re likely to hear in bars, as “Ossining,” “American Car,” “Looking at the World from the Bottom,” in addition to the dark, woven masterpiece “Down on the River by the Sugar Plant.” I mean, who’s complaining now? Oh yeah, Doughty himself, because he’s “Forty Grand in the Hole.” Friends like these, eh?

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