The whole reason I write this blog is to turn people on to music I love. (I ain't doing this for the money, that's for sure!). Now, you may recall I've written about Greg Trooper a few times already -- here and here and here. But I'm not giving up, folks; you might as well all go out and buy his albums because I'm not going to shut up until you do.
Last week I featured a new track by Amos from his Mission Bell album (sorry, because of technical difficulties the sucker just wouldn't post until today). But really, you don't need me to tell you about Mission Bell, which was the #1 album in the country the week it came out. On the other hand, you do need me to tell you about Greg Trooper's new release, Upside-Down Town. It's just as good as Amos Lee's; it even cruises along similar folk-soul-Americana pathways. But I worry it might fall through the cracks.
For one thing, Greg Trooper released this album on his own label -- he doesn't have a major label cranking up the PR apparatus for him. And for another, his blend of country, folk, and R&B means that pigeonholes don't work to his advantage. And yet this is totally accessible music, nothing fringe about it. Go figure.
Here's how the album starts out, with the feisty wit of "Nobody in the Whole Wide World." If I had to classify this song, I'd call it a Warning song -- a subset of the Advice Song category (think "She Loves You") with a bit more edge. The "I" of the song (always dangerous to imagine it's the songwriter himself) is addressing a girl with the news--news to her, at least--that her boyfriend's a jerk. "You and your boyfriend ought to call it quits," he begins, blunt from the start -- and it goes downhill from there. Like the old Betty Everett/Linda Ronstadt classic "You're No Good," when he's done cataloging the guy's faults, she'd have to be a fool to stay.
But pay attention to the craftsmanship. In verse one, he's only criticizing the relationship, which seems a mismatch -- "He buys you clothes but they never fit / They're always two or three sizes small / Don't think it's you that he wants at all." Ouch! I'd be outta there already. But he's just getting started. In verse two, he widens the time frame, contrasting how the relationship has deteriorated since its lovey-dovey early days. Then in verse three, he slips into her head a bit more, wondering why she stays -- for the guy's money and status? Of course she'll reject those motives, leaving herself with NO other reason to stay.
In verse four, he plants yet more subtle doubts, making her mistrust the guy's every glance. After the instrumental break, in verse five, he inserts the thin end of the wedge, reminding her of an earlier break-up. Why on earth did they reunite, he wonders. "Don't go thinking he's a soul to save," he begs her -- again, handing her a motive she can't possibly buy into.
It's not until verse six that he reminds her she's got other options. "You've heard about the fish in the sea," he mentions, innocently, and then -- oh, so subtly -- he slips in, "Might be a fish that even looks like me." At last, the whole song comes into focus. Up until now, he seemed to be a disinterested bystander, with a totally objective perspective. But now it's clear -- of course he hates that other guy; he's jealous. And how shrewd, not to show his hand until now. Compare this to John Hiatt's "She Loves the Jerk," where the wronged girl's confidante suffers unrequited love from the start -- dare I say that Trooper's song is even cleverer?
Look at how Trooper segues into that refrain line, "Nobody in the whole world," with a different line for each verse. "Nobody thinks that he's the man for you" -- wrong relationship. "Nobody wants to see you treated that way" -- bad dynamic. "Nobody likes him, not his family or friends" -- awful human being. "Nobody else could put up with him" and "Nobody thinks that that's a good idea" -- wrong decision on her part. But in the final verse, he flips the whole thing. Up to now, his "nobodys" are all negative, sung with a shake of the head; now he turns it into a superlative: "Nobody else compares to you." He's just dismantled her relationship, reduced her boyfriend to a hideous mistake -- what better time to swoop in with adoring flattery?
Meanwhile, Trooper swings along with a sinuous melody (perfect for that devious, dogged argument) and disarmingly loose syncopation. I love Greg Trooper's expressive voice, how he delivers earnestness edged with the occasional snarl of anger or yelp of yearning. It's a fun song, not a downer at all; Trooper's playing a character, not spilling out his heart. On the other hand, it's loaded with deft psychological strokes. Hey, I'm still steamed about that jerk buying me too-tight dresses and giving me those looks. Thank goodness Greg Trooper understands...