I quit my stupid job this week.
Well, not quit so much as gave my notice, since my budget requires that I stick it out for another three weeks, but on December 19, I’m all done. This job has been an albatross about my neck since March, but it became unbearable only a few months ago when the 12-hour days kicked in. Since then, I’ve had only five days off – two for the Thanksgiving holiday, and three for a funeral. I just have so many other, better things I can do with my time, and thanks to the money I’ve saved, I have a nice six-month buffer to decide where to go next. It seems like I do this once a year now, right around this time, and the tradition continues…
I have, of course, had people I work with come up to me upon hearing the news and ask me why I would throw away such a “good job,” such a “great opportunity for a young guy.” And I don’t know how to answer that. This whole situation has had the unfortunate side effect of making me feel extremely old, and wasted, and useless, and I need to get out before those feelings go away, and I start to wonder myself why I would quit such a “good job.”
So three weeks, and I’m gone. That’s 21 days, or 252 hours. I can do that.
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I owe Donnie Vie an apology.
A few months ago, the guys who run his website (www.donnievie.com) sent me downloads of Vie’s first solo album, Just Enough. I promised a review, but I figured I’d wait until the album was actually released, so that curious readers could check it out and buy it. And then things came up, and I didn’t get around to the review. I’ve just recently found out that the U.S. release has come and gone – the label that printed up the tiny run has sold out of them, twice. So instead of being too early, this column is too late. My apologies to Donnie and Keavin Wiggins, who sent me the album.
The tragedy of the puny print run on this side of the pond is that Just Enough is really good. Had this album been released by a better-known artist, it would be hailed as a sweet pop gem. As it is, almost no one is going to get to hear it – which is one reason Vie has set up his online club, to connect with potential fans who may not be able to pick up the CD.
I’d be willing to bet that very few of my readers are nodding their heads at the mention of the name Donnie Vie. For 15 years, Vie was one-half of the songwriting team behind Enuff Znuff, a criminally underrated and undeservedly obscure band that combined intelligent ’60s pop with pyrotechnic ’80s rock. That combination works a lot better than it sounds like it would. Vie and guitarist Chip Z’Nuff were a team in the Lennon/McCartney tradition, and few acts of the past 30 years have managed to come up with a consistent string of superb pop songs that rivals Enuff Znuff’s output. If you think I’m kidding, you haven’t heard them.
I’ve said this before, but the best way to describe Enuff Z’Nuff is as John Lennon’s glam-rock band. Vie and Z’Nuff have been great songwriters all along, but only recently did they make the transition into great record makers – the production finally started matching the quality of the songs on 1999’s Paraphernalia, EZN’s ninth album. The streak continued with 2001’s Ten and this year’s Welcome to Blue Island, both swell pop records. With the band starting to come into their own artistically, of course it was high time for the singer to leave.
And leave he did, forcing lead guitarist Monaco to take over lead vocal duties. Whether EZN can continue without half of their songwriting force remains to be seen, but they really shouldn’t keep calling it Enuff Z’Nuff. I hate to keep making Beatles analogies, but they’re par for the course with this band: calling a Vie-less Enuff Z’Nuff by that name would be like reuniting the Beatles without John and George. It won’t be the same.
The dissolution of the Vie/Z’Nuff partnership is tempered somewhat by Just Enough, which carries the EZN tradition into quieter and more pure pop areas. (The title references that dissolution effectively: puns usually give me a rash, but I liked this one.) I don’t have liner notes with my downloaded copy, but I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that Vie’s first solo effort is indeed purely solo. The drums are all programmed (though not techno or cheeseball), and the backing vocals are all Vie, so it doesn’t seem like much of a stretch to imagine him playing all the instruments.
And if that’s true, he should be quite proud of this record. The searing guitars are gone, but otherwise, there isn’t much separating this from the best of Enuff Z’Nuff’s work. Vie’s gift for melody never fails him here – he’s written 12 winning pop tunes that move and breathe, propelled most often by acoustic guitars. The production is sometimes thin, but the songs are unfailingly sweet and meaty, and Vie’s voice is in top form, recalling John Lennon in his prime.
The primary difference between this and some of EZN’s quieter work is Vie’s new sense of maturity. It’s like he’s angling for the respect he’s always deserved on this album, proving his worth as a songwriter track after track. Opener “Spider Web” details feelings of hopelessness, backed by a super melody reminiscent of “I’m Only Sleeping.” It never slips into melancholy, however – it’s a song about reaching through the haze, a common theme on Just Enough.
The hits just keep on coming, too. “Better Days” sounds like a classic, one that’s been on the radio forever. “I’ll Go On” is the most Beatlesque thing here, and it’s right on par with McCartney’s best stuff. “Wasting Time” is beautiful, despite a synth string section that galls a bit. “Alice in a Jam” is almost giddy in its poppy charms. Vie turns in his best vocal performance ever on “That’s What Love Is,” a terrific acoustic ballad. And who knows why the effervescent hit-in-the-making “Blowing Kisses in the Wind” is sequenced so late in the album, but it’s a delight.
It’s shameful that an album so full of life, and a songwriter so full of good ideas, can’t find a supportive U.S. label. I follow a lot of songwriters from band to band, from album to album, and Donnie Vie is one of only a handful that’s never let me down – I’ve never felt even a twinge of regret for buying anything he’s associated with. If you appreciate good pop music, you owe it to yourself to check out Vie’s work, both here and with Enuff Znuff.
The problem remains getting that work out to people, and Vie’s made great strides in that direction with his online club. The simple truth is that if record labels won’t invest the time and money into supporting a songwriter of this caliber, then they’re useless, and we as music fans ought to bypass them entirely and go right to the source. If you live in the U.S., www.donnievie.com is pretty much the only place to hear new tunes by Donnie, and if it works out for him, he might become one of the first to stop making traditional CDs entirely. I say more power to him, because it certainly isn’t a lack of talent that’s been keeping Vie from the spotlight. One listen to Just Enough will easily confirm that.
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I finished the Top 10 List last week, and I’m set to run it on the last week of December, following my traditional Christmas break. The rest of the year is accounted for, with a bit of a surprise next week and reviews of Ryan Adams, Cerberus Shoal and the new Johnny Cash box set coming up. Happy Thanksgiving, all.
See you in line Tuesday morning.