I’ve Got Nothing
Except, That Is, a Weekly Deadline

Nothing to write about today.

There are a couple of reasons for this. Primarily, I’ve just bid my vacation adieu and have begun my “real life” in Hobart, Indiana. I’m still waiting (of course) for news of my rejection from Columbia College of Chicago, and I’ve yet to secure myself a job. Essentially, I’m in the midst of waking up.

Tying right into that “I have no job” thing is the sad state of my financial affairs. Sure, I have an IRA that will (hopefully) mature into megabucks by the time I’m 65 or so, but until then, I need steady income to survive. I truly miss the days when this column appeared in a magazine that was serviced by several of the major record labels and almost all of the minor ones. Reviewing music regularly when you haven’t got the cash needed to purchase said music is tricky.

Don’t worry, though. I’ve budgeted enough for the major releases this month – Ben Folds next week, Tori Amos the week after that – so more clever, insightful, witty reviews are on the horizon. And who knows, I might review them as well.

Unfortunately, none of those major releases came out this week. I’ve got nothing.

I thought about using this space to catch up on releases I’ve missed, like Cake’s invigorating Comfort Eagle. Which is a good record, by the way. It’s yet another in a long line of recent releases that barely crack half an hour in length, but the half an hour we get is quite adventurous. John McCrea still sounds like he dropped out of his M. Doughty wannabe class a few weeks early (and if you’re shaking your head at that line, you should really pick up Soul Coughing’s three excellent albums), but behind him, the band strikes out in a few new directions. Cake’s a pretty indescribable band, melding influences from rock, rap, reggae, ska, jazz and country with the occasional mariachi flourish. If you liked their first three records, this one is shorter, but better.

I also thought about going back even further to offer my thoughts on some of last year’s ignored releases. For example, there’s Peter Gabriel’s OVO, which I’ve mentioned a few times but never fully reviewed. My rationale for ignoring it was that it has yet to see a U.S. release. Sadly, it looks like there are no plans to distribute this semi-masterpiece stateside, but trust me when I say it’s worth the import price. OVO is the studio companion to Gabriel’s theatrical piece, written for the Millennium Dome in London in 1999. It tells the story of three generations of a family, which you can see in animated form in the enhanced material on the disc.

Apart from the story, though, the music is excellent, easily the best non-soundtrack work Gabriel’s done since Security. (I say non-soundtrack because Passion, his score to The Last Temptation of Christ, still stands as his finest work, in my ever-humble opinion.) The half-instrumental album combines his trademark synth beds and stunning drum army with traditional Irish reels, African chants, hip-hop and techno beats. It’s truly one world World music, and it also happens to contain some of Gabriel’s most indelible melodies. He hands the lead vocal duties over to other singers a few more times than he should have, perhaps, but that effectively recalls the theatrical roots of this disc. The closing track, the monumental “Make Tomorrow,” is everything “Secret World” wished it could be, and wraps all the melodies together with the skill of a master.

At the very least, OVO will help tide you over until Gabriel releases the long-awaited Up sometime next year. Or the year after that.

Another one I thought about discussing is Kip Winger’s Songs From the Ocean Floor, which also has yet to see a U.S. release. It’s too bad his name is actually Kip Winger, because he’s made a startling artistic transformation since fronting the band that bore his name in the early ‘90s. There’s nothing more invigorating to me than watching an artist reinvent himself, and even though one would be hard-pressed to call the author of such classics as “Can’t Get Enuff” and “Seventeen” an artist per se, he’s worked overtime to earn that appellation on his solo releases.

Songs From the Ocean Floor completes his metamorphosis, leaving behind virtually all of his hard rock past in favor of deep textures and heartfelt lyrics. Burbling synths, driving acoustic guitars and a liberal sprinkling of strings coalesce into an album that sounds like it was recorded underwater. Don’t get me wrong – the sound quality is crystal clear, but the arrangements are purposely murky and atmospheric, especially the powerful “Landslide.”

It’s the songs, though, that keep me coming back to the Ocean Floor. The melodies are tricky and not immediately accessible, the arrangements are amazing, and the lyrics, largely dealing with loss and finality (Winger lost his wife shortly before recording this), are often painfully honest. I’ve said it before and I’m sure I’ll say it again – tragedy brings out the best in any artist. With Songs From the Ocean Floor, Kip Winger has earned that title and then some. Unfortunately, it’s only available at www.kipwinger.com. His other two solo works, Thisconversationseemslikeadream and Down Incognito, are also recommended and available at the website.

But see? I don’t have too much to say about either of those, which still leaves me with a column to write and no topic. I also thought that perhaps I’d make mention of some newly announced releases for the next few months. There are some good ones, like the mighty Sloan’s return on October 16 with Pretty Together. After rapid-firing out their last three records, Sloan took an extended break to write and record this thing, which promises to be just as great as they always are. There’s also King’s X’s ninth album, Manic Moonlight, hitting on September 25. This follows their best album in ages, last year’s Please Come Home Mr. Bulbous. Also, Aphex Twin will be checking in with a double-disc affair called Drukqz, or some shit like that, on October 23. A week before that, Leonard Cohen delivers ten new songs on a record he’s wittily titled Ten New Songs. Finally, and most surprisingly, Billy Joel is slated to come out with his first classical recording for solo piano, Opus 1-10: Fantasies and Delusions, on October 2.

Yeah, I thought about talking about those, but I just spent a whole column doing that three weeks ago, and there’s only so many times I can use that trick to fill space before you fine folks come gunning for me. So, you’ll have to accept my apologies this time. I just couldn’t find anything worth my usual 1200 words. I’m deeply sorry, but as I said, next week, Ben Folds, and the week after that, Tori Amos. Until then, I hope you can forgive me.

See you in line Tuesday morning.