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“Going Nowhere Fast: How Head Automatica Tragically Fizzled out in the Last Decade and Change

 Say what you want. There is such a thing as putting on a CD at 11 am when you get up, sitting back with some coffee, sinking into the music, forgetting about all your bothers and just feeling great. There is such a thing as musical rapture. I used to know it in the form of Head Automatica’s Popaganda and maybe still will, if I can get past my current mental conceptions of the cold machinations of the world.

And sure, I’m talking about corporate machinations here — impossible to please record labels, demanding managers who make bands tour incessantly, and such things. And sure there are fans who want to hear “Beating Heart Baby” at ever show when that song totally blows anyway.

But what about the cold, unforgiving machinations of everyday life. Nobody seems to account for those.

Glossing back through Head Automatica’s vaunted two-album discography, it’s easy, in my opinion, to tell the good songs [“Brooklyn in Burning”; “King Caesar”; “Solid Gold Telephone”; “Graduation Day”; Lying through Your Teeth”; “Scandalous”; “Curious”; “God”; “Shot in the Back (The Platypus)”; “Million Dollar Decision” and maybe a couple other stragglers]. It’s less easy to, say, MAKE SENSE OF THE WHOLE THING, from a thematic standpoint, although maybe that’s how it’s supposed to be. That is, for how pert and ebullient this Darryl Palumbo singer can seem, for how robust and flawless his voice can sound and no matter how perfect and awesome the songs are, for that late-morning coffee lounge when the devil seems to scurry out of your room like a cockroach and you’re left with these lingering, sort of half-there visions of the things in life that nurture, things that are non-judgmental and steadying, sure, there always seemed to be a sort of tornado vortex in front of him, knocking him down.

The new album, originally slated for 2009, then 2012, then shelved indefinitely, was set to be called “Swan Damage.” I mean, just to level here, I’m very surprised the record label even accepted that title (apparently then rejecting to the music itself on the album). That’s androgynous even by George Michael’s standards.

Especially, I think, by the late-’00s and early teens, particularly as indie rock obstinately refused to take off commercially despite its being completely awesome and full, there really just wasn’t as much of a market for the whole loser/nice guy alt-rock zeitgeist, like there was when Better Than Ezra was cranking out “Good” and even three years prior to Swan Damage’s original release date, when My Chemical Romance was belting out “I Don’t Love You” like the damaged swans as whom we all know and love them. It was supposed to be for dance clubs, which were still a thing obviously, but the one song I heard is this “Adore” which though listenable is a bit energetically meandering and probably too steeped in the awkward, vaudeville brand of rock and roll championed by Elvis Costello and other vanilla city-slickers in the late-’70s and early-’80s. Better than being a Pearl Jam ripoff band? Yup. Good enough to warrant your interest? Probably not.

So stylistically, we sort of see how Head Automatica imploded in on itself, partly for an identity crisis and partly for just being a square peg in a round hole (or just being “too white,” if you prefer [1]). But it was all a 10-yard fight the whole time, as we see with the sacrificial “Nowhere Fast” and the pairing of “taking a hit” and “writing a hit” in the lyrics of the song’s various verses. Palumbo’s mourning of the fact that “I had to write a hit” might not just be workplace exhaustion: it might actually mean that what goes into every one of these catchy and hummable, unforgettable songs is actually a piece of him, a piece he’d probably rather have back in his original form but can only now carry in the reincarnation of his artistic commodity which is sold the world throughout, at wavering prices at best.

It was reported that around the time of the album Popaganda, singer Darryl Palumbo was battling Crohn’s Disease. I haven’t seen any new word on this lately.

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[1]Apropos of this, they might have done ok just to take up lodging in the UK and be a touring pub band there, with the greater demand for rock, particularly in Band of Skulls’ native Southhampton, where the Heads played one of their first of many UK concerts.

 

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