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“Grounding the ‘Era of Fear’ in Healthy in Paranoid Times, if We May”

One time in what must have been like late fall 2003, I’d gotten some Taco Bell from the drive thru and for some reason didn’t want to eat in the parking lot, so I rolled to some side street like a mile away, sat there and started to eat. As it happened, I’d pulled up right in front of the house of this lady who was just getting home with her young son, and she pulled up next to me and asked me what I was doing. I said I was just eating and she was completely indignant like, WHY ARE YOU EATING HERE? WHAT THE HE** ARE YOU DOING? Then just a month or so ago, I was right around the same area, around the Indiana/Michigan state line a couple miles north of South Bend, and this guy saw me eating a Blizzard in my car in front of his house and though it was day I could just TELL he didn’t care and sort of drove right into his driveway and went in, with this cool-guy expression.

Society shifts, sometimes, in these simply arbitrary, meaningless, but still noticeable ways, such as the fact that now you can score acid all around South Bend, and people actually DO it, and stuff, essentially meaning that today there are more crazy fu**s walking around everywhere than there were in the “age of fear,” or the five or so years following 9/11 and encompassing the throes of the war in Iraq, and yet we’re less suspicious of each other.

Well, with music in such a general dormancy of zeitgeist since, maybe, Eminem, it’s nice to just have ANY markers with which to denote one mini-epoch from another, if only for its allowance of any such meaningless demarcation and sidestepping of a complete, blank uniformity of culture across decade, of which we seem otherwise in danger, perhaps.

But what I’m trying to do in the preceding paragraphs is illuminate how the G.W. Bush admin. actually EMBODIED a different time, a time of increased suspicion, a “paranoid time,” as Toronto’s Our Lady Peace explicate in the title of their 2005 album, their sixth overall.

Such a displacement of the erstwhile practices and consummate mind states would if nothing else serve to justify the existence of Healthy in Paranoid Times, which, you’ve gotta admit, is a tree falling in the forest with no one around, if there ever were one, this culturally behooving phenomenon notwithstanding. I mean it just doesn’t GET much more doomed than radio rock was in 2005, an era when even the patriotic high jinks of Three Doors Down and the puerile rancor of Linkin Park had gotten stale, Limp Bizkit defeated by Eminem in “Without Me” and Korn absent for a couple years. We were firmly immersed in a decidedly banal, skin-baring era in hip-hop with Juvenile and Fat Joe belting out brainless promiscuousness and rims on big-tired cars in Houston about the only thing that seemed to be uniting anybody.

Ironically, though, Paranoid Times might be Our Lady Peace’s best album. Vocalist Raine Maida sounds most at home, nay, comfortable in his own skin, on opener “Angels/Losing/Sleep,” apparently a grouping of three separate entities given ulterior meaning under the revelation that the angels, themselves, are losing sleep in this “dark new day,” so to speak. Maida’s admission that “Over your shoulder you have to watch / Heaven fall into he**” stands as sort of the quintessential image to define that era as post-WTC attack, with the uneasy, accusatory act of nervously glancing around yielding nothing but what seems like everybody else doing the same thing.

Healthy in Paranoid Times to me is like that advice I got from an uncle 15 years ago and just kind of let fall into the back of my consciousness, or unconscious, but never REALLY let go of. It’s the work of rock-gravitating individuals who were just a little older and had seen a little more than me, and, at this point in their career, finally weren’t TRYING too hard. It’s like they finally knew they had no chance of scoring a number one radio hit so they stopped peppering their songs with all this unnecessary, convoluted drama (“Superman’s Dead” in particular plays to me as wielding manufactured emotion and a wealth of autonomous, unrelated parts to it), to ease from one segment to another with relative smoothness and refreshing, world-weary continuity. “Wipe That Smile off Your Face” establishes a plaint against a callous, plastic sort of man within these troubling times, while “Boy,” in all its contradiction, in juxtaposing the lyrics “It’s the time of your life / Don’t let it slip away” with “You’ll be running but can’t get anywhere / Don’t carry the weight of the world”, still stands as a listenable tune with nice, no-frills production, and a refreshingly un-romantic sort of pedagogical pontification to someone in a more formative stage than him.

Musically, this age should be differentiated from our current one for the fact that Steve Gunn’s “New Familiar” couldn’t have materialized therein because it’s so dramatic and self-indulgent, hence with blinders on to the general cultural trends and messages surrounding it. Healthy in Paranoid Times, on the other hand, is notable for its very keenness to overarching culture, a testament to straight-ahead alternative rock in the vein of Fastball or Seven Mary Three, a rock album with enough physical, gut-level character that it hardly seems to matter that the messages are sometimes nonsensical. In fact, this can almost be endearing, like the band’s general tendency to try to hard is suddenly grounded within a sociological organism, alternative rock, that’s at this point enough of an underdog as to embrace, rather than cast aside as condescending, its whole-hearted indulgence therein.

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