End of Love
Remember cleverness? We have seen so many other intellectual pursuits become the dominant feather in the human plumage over that last decade. Jerry Seinfeld and Alanis Morrisette gave birth to the inappropriately named lovechild Irony that has been the lead class clown during what I dubbed the post-funny era of the late '90s early '00s, a decade so devoid of self-investigation that we don't really know what to call it. Is it the "zeroes?" The "oh-oh's?" Sarcasm had a brief resurgence, swimming the shark infested waters of Determinism that come with a strong economy, but all that gave way to cursed Sincerity born that chilling September morn, that put all frivolity and self-joy on hold. David Cross has a great bit about this, with that one guy sitting in his truck a month later, venting the complaint he couldn't utter in public: "C'mon now, someone just pick up a damn football! I got all these snacks..."
Fortunately, we have had some time to heal and get back to the most satisfying of mental quick hits - being clever. There is actually some good TV with fun, witty writing flavored but not overpowered by humor like Desperate Housewives and Arrested Development, our big stories are once again celebrity missteps allowing every armchair Letterman their own personal Ed Sullivan Theater. And, I am so happy to see cleverness coming back into music. I remember how struck I was with the erudition of XTC's Skylarking, not afraid to lace that intricacy with cleverness. I remember hearing the Dandy Warhols, elated that someone was still trying to be funny. Drive-By Truckers, the eels, M.Ward - lots of people have given up trying to get into the honor society and instead are endeavoring to get kicked out of class for being a wise-ass. Therefore, enter Clem Snide.
Clem Snide, a band named after a William S. Burroughs character (thorough knowledge of which was a pre-requisite of being a true wise-ass back in my day) fronted by the oddly monikered, cracked voice of Eef Barzelay bust forth from the sad-sack world of Alt Country deftly intertwining their intricate yet homey musics with smart turns of phrase, pop culture illusions and, the frothy undercurrent of all humor, sadness. End of Love comes on with a strident title track that will get your mid-'80s alt-rock light a-buzzin baring open the true story of such the cultural aesthete which we describe, punctuated with the line "The first thing every killer reads is "Catcher in the Rye." The big winner for me is the next track "Collapse" with its slow guitar strum and tambourine gait supporting words of getting-ones-shit-together after it all falls apart. A fine duo of "The Sound of German Hip-Hop" followed by "Tiny European Cars" underscores the self-imposed loneliness of the clever and in-the-know with some of the best lyrics on this thing
Tiny European cars, bouncing off my shins
And if you've never seen a bullfight, guess who always wins
To grab it by the horns, its life like censored porn
And did you know they sing 'Ring Around the Rosie' when you die?
Seeing the Big Picture is not always such a good thing, since its often not the most flattering portrait. Thankfully, this is a tasty platter of soft instrumentation, brushed drums and Eef's slightly strained voice, calmly intoning these tales of woe and hope. Paul Burch, who creates some of the finest music around in a Deconstructed Country vein, is listed in the liner notes, so maybe his talent for serving up one's ennui warm helps to color this fantastic, sweet, sad, smart little album. Next time you are sitting in the office and realizing that all the people around you are pie-pan shallow idiots and you wish to smash them in a fit of insouciance, put on this CD and smile knowing that you and your cleverness will deliver you to a much better place.
Alex V. Cook listens to everything and writes about most of it. His latest book, the snappily titled Louisiana Saturday Night: Looking for a Good Time in South Louisiana's Juke Joints, Honky-Tonks, and Dance Halls is an odyssey from the backwoods bars and small-town dives to the swampside dance halls and converted clapboard barns of a Louisiana Saturday Night. Don't leave Heathrow without it. His first book Darkness Racket and Twang is available from SideCartel. The full effect can be had at alex v cook.com