If we walk away, they walk away

I've been listening to an incredible amount of music lately - some old, some new, some resurrected.

Hearing John Cougar Mellencamp's Scarecrow album means revisiting the old house and skimming back to summer, age 6, my sister doing handstands in the backyard sprinkler, dad in his trucker cap mowing the front lawn, mom handing me a popsicle that somehow gave me enough energy in our pre-air conditioned vacuum to believe I could do as good a handstand as my sister. When I was home for 4th of July weekend, I went for a jog around the neighborhood with my mom's 1999 mp3 player, which had the song, "Minutes to Memories" on it. Forget "Pink Houses" and all of his other patriotic anthems. "Minutes to Memories" is the real deal, a relic of uncommercialized Americana, just begging me to wonder: when did the quality of life start being measured by the size of your bank account, rather than by the company of your family and friends? Sample lyric: "This world offers riches and riches will grow wings. I don’t take stock in those uncertain things." Twenty years later, I've learned not to take stock in uncertain things, and I still can't believe this song was recorded in the mid-80s.

Billy Corgan's new album: Um...I feel guilty knocking my adolescent hero. What I don't get is why he's doing a cover of "To Love Somebody." And why he took out an ad in the Chicago papers announcing that the Smashing Pumpkins were reuniting. And why he gets naked in the liner notes. The album itself is nothing new, which in my cloud of high and hopeful expectations means it's a total letdown. If you've heard the Pumpkins album Adore, you're better off just sticking with that. His ego is too big for a solo album.

Saul Williams is a spoken word rock/hip-hop artist I discovered on MTV2 in his explosive, protest-fueled "List of Demands" video. Listening to his album is a laborous enterprise because as with a lot of hip hop artists, I gain much more from his lyrics by reading along than just listening to them, which is why it makes a lot of sense that Zach de la Rocha guest stars, because now I have to go and break out Rage's Battle of Los Angeles again. What Saul Williams really needs is music that can live up to his poetry. "List of Demands" works because it's so straightforward - hard-hitting and angry - but unfortunately, most of the other tracks lose themselves in experimental soundtracks.

Other albums chasing me include: Belle and Sebastian's If You're Feeling Sinister ("Get Me Away from Here I'm Dying" somehow uplifting in its urgent desperation), Coldplay's X&Y (I'm consoled by a band that shamelessly continues to do what it does best, only better every time), Jimmy Cliff's Greatest Hits ("Hard Road to Travel" is the just-as-lonely cousin of "Dock of the Bay"), and I could keep going, sharing and listening to more music, but somehow there's never enough.

Saving the best recommendation for last, I have to say that I wasn't a big Bright Eyes fan prior to acquiring his recently released acoustic album, I'm Wide Awake, It's Morning. Lifted... had its moments, a bold exercise, but it by no means prepared me for the political tinged poignancy of this new collection, which I picked up at the record store sort of impulsively, without really knowing why. Well, now I know - the album strikes me incredible after a few listens. One song in particular, "Landlocked Blues," has really been haunting me, calling for automatic repeated listens, its audio reflection lodging itself in my head when I'm at work, playing soccer, even in deep slumber. Maybe it's Emmylou Harris' accompaniment, the yearning, simplistic fingerpicking build to gorgeous crescendo, or the gutsy emotional imagery, but I believe the song to be universal in its ability to haunt, not in a disturbing way, but in a empathetic, almost spiritual way...whether you're ready to be haunted is up to you. I offer closing incentive in the form of a verse that gives me the chills:

"We made love on the living room floor
With the noise in the background from a televised war
And in that deafening pleasure, I thought I heard someone say
If we walk away, they walk away"


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