The electric Christmas card photographer got in line with many others and as we were listening to Emmylou sing Lucinda's "Sweet Old World" she said to me, "You sure do like sad songs." If I had a nickel for every time I heard that I'd be at least three dollars and fifty-five cents less in debt by now. That particular song (which happens to be my current all time favorite song) never has struck me as being all that sad. Sure it's a song chastising one who has killed himself, but it isn't so much about losing one with suicidal tendencies as it is all the beautiful things in this world that are worth cherishing, loving and living for.
Now if you want to hear some really depressing music listen to the Cranberries' new CD, Wake Up and Smell the Coffee. It's not that the new disc is downbeat, indeed it is the group's most chirpy to date; rather it's the music is downright awful and listening to it not only insults your intelligence it sucks brain cells right out of your noggin.
Normally (if that word can ever truly apply to me) I'm as big a fan of insipid music as anyone I know. Paul McCartney remains one of my favorite songwriters precisely because his music can be so inane and cloying. Paul has worked hard to earn his reputation as the empty headed producer of the world's silliest love songs and I for one applaud him for that.
But the new Cranberries' disc is so annoying that it goes beyond my tolerance for such contrived happiness. It reminds me of the fairly lousy Buffy episode in which John Ritter plays a robot/boyfriend of Buffy's mom and seduces Mrs. Summers by putting a drug akin to Ecstasy in her chocolate chip cookies. Just when you think the episode will take the less than normal standard network "ignorance is bliss" stance, pouty Buffy ruins things by showing she is right and that the Ritter character is a bit more evil than your normal "I don't want my mother dating anyone who is not my father" boyfriend. Similarly Wake Up and Smell the Coffee tries to sound convincing in its vapid "we've done the depressing stuff now it's time to sing happy songs" approach.
Lead singer Dolores O'Riordan Burton writes in the liner notes that since having her second child she thought the group owed the world music that's "extremely up and grateful." "I guess family and friends are the essential key to happiness," Dolores writes. "It is from such simplicities that we create love- for me love is all."
Well, fine. But how about writing music that conveys that love and joy and not one that seems contrived and listless? Happiness isn't that uninspiring is it? There isn't a single moment of revelation, a single bit of insight in the 13 songs- a pretty mean trick to pull off. The best song of the lot, "Analyze" sounds so much like the group's biggest hit, "Dreams" that a copyright violation citation seems in order. (In perhaps a bit of unintentional irony the chorus of the song ends with the sing along tag- "lie, lie, lie, lie lie..." how bloody appropriate.) So many of the songs sound so eerily derivative of the group's earlier work that one wants to take the songwriter(s) aside and tell them that if they're going to steal music, at least steal something classic and with roots.
Maybe it was the sour mood I was in when I first listened to the disc. The CD provided background soundtrack noise to the gossip/rumor turned news that MY heart's team is in immediate danger of disbanding. It sure will be a sad day when Macalester no longer has a football team. The news hit me like a needle inserted into a familiar feline's ample stomach. After a difficult day when Mr. Max came home with a shaved belly and I resorted (some would say insensitively) to calling him "Mr. Poodle" in reference to his stylish fur and skin look, I desperately needed some music to pick me up. Believe me, Wake Up and Smell the Coffee wasn't the right tonic.
To get rid of the icky goo stuck inside my mind I put on Loudon Wainwright III's new CD Last Man on Earth. That CD is truly a powerful and admirable effort, a sterling cycle of songs about dealing with the grief after one's mother dies. After listening to the disc my nerves were a bit less agitated. All the songs are worth listening to but the final song "Homeless" effectively closes out the journey in such a powerful manner that it is a wonderful reminder of the healing powers of the sharing of music. "People have called to find out if I'm fine/I assure them I am/But I'm not/It's a line/They say in the end/Your good friends pull you through/But everyone knows/My best friend was you..."
I guess Ms. Electricity was right all along: maybe I do have an affinity for sad songs after all.