Saturday, June 28, 2008

"Jagged" / The Old 97s

A fellow Kinks fan sent me a compilation CD of this alt-country band's music, and I've been digging it ever so much, thank you. What's really amazing, my teenagers actually don't scream and make me take it out of the CD player when we're in the car.

This is what the record companies can't seem to figure out: music sharing is good business for them. Sure, my friend ripped off 16 tracks and gave them away to me for free. How is that worse than the old days when people lent their vinyl albums to each other? That's how you learn about new artists, especially now when radio sucks and the independent record store is dead. (Even the chains are dying -- I just heard that the Virgin Records Mega-Stores are vacating Times Square, the only place my son has ever had that quintessential bin-browsing experience.)

Now that I've listened to this sampler, I'm sure I will buy Old 97s CDs -- and I certainly wouldn't have if she hadn't sent me this. All those Nick Lowe samplers I sent to friends a couple years ago? Every one of those people bought Nick's new CD last year. (Note to self: Send out some Ron Sexsmith samplers to whip up the audience for his new CD, due out July 8.)

But back to the Old 97s. This song, from their 1999 album Fight Songs, is the first track on the sampler, so it's the one that hit me first. And what a great first impression it made. On this one, the alt side outweighs the country -- just listen to the buzzing guitar work and skipping drumbeat, or the indie whine and mumble in Rhett Miller's vocals, perfectly appropriate for the subject matter. "I would give anything," he frets over and over in the chorus, "Not to feel so jagged." It's an odd word to use -- it's anything but a cliche -- and as soon as I heard it, I knew exactly what he was talking about.

It's not love that doing this to him -- or is it? "What remains of the day remains to be seen / By the TV that we never turn on / Each other's enough / I never had it so rough / Ever since I been gone." You tell me what's going on with these people. But I like the opacity of this situation; I really feel his misery, when he can't even put into words what's going on. "White noise swells in my head," he says in verse two; "It's the summertime / But it's the dead of the fall / It's the dead of the night / Hell yes I mind." Whoa, there's some existential angst for you. That never goes down well in Nashville (but Austin might get it). "I couldn't drink enough to make this make sense," he adds, "But I think I'm gonna give it a try."

What I like about this song is that it doesn't have to get all moany and mopey to express depression. They've found another grammar -- a restless guitar line, jerky rhythms, fretful octave jumps in the melody, obssessively repeated lyrics, a pained wail at the end of every chorus. It's about depression, but it's not one bit depressing to listen to. Now there's a feat for you.
Jagged sample


Natsthename said...

That's my favorite song from that album, and it's an "old favorite" by now! I dig the 97's!

Holly A Hughes said...

So Nat, what do you think is going on with that couple in the song? I'm dying to know.

And BTW, I'm in the Mellencamp camp too (and I get constant flak for it...)

Nina said...

hi! i'm a long-time reader of your blog. i recently restarted/renamed mine, and would love some feedback!

Natsthename said...

Well, I always thought of it as a hangover song! I mean, he's obviously getting out of bed late (what remains of the day,) and he couldn't drink enough to make whatever it is make sense. He/she probably had a fight, or she dumped him for someone else or somthing, so he went on a bender!

Not that it's ever happened to me! ;)

Mervap said...

I always expect to hear Neil Young to show up on this track...the opening is quite like him...