Well, this was supposed to be the first Tuesday Morning column in about six weeks that was actually delivered and posted on a date that resembles the one atop the column, but no such luck. This week I battled valiantly against a hacking, wheezing, snotty sort of illness that set up shop in my throat and proceeded to sell huge amounts of gooey green liquid to all takers within my skull. I went to work all mopey and leaky, hoping to spread my viral infection to the most deserving asswipe of an assistant editor ever visited upon the journalism industry, but otherwise stayed unconscious. We’ll see next week if it was all worth it, if Huggybear the Grim (as we’ve come to call him) collapses, his lungs aflame and his head dissolving to liquid. Such thoughts keep a smile on my face.
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I need to mention the Oscars for a second, simply because it will annoy Josh Rogers, and I haven’t heard from him in a while, and this should incite him to write me a hateful e-mail about stupid awards shows, which I will enjoy reading. So, the Oscars.
I’m overall happy with the selections this year, even though A Beautiful Mind is going to mercilessly sweep through the top awards – Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Director, Best Supporting Actress and Best Adapted Screenplay are all but in the bag. It’s a shame, really, because two much more deserving films are nominated (In the Bedroom and Moulin Rouge), but that seems to be the case every year, and why should this one provide that glimmer of faint hope that would sustain millions of moviegoers’ faith in the Academy? Screw that, give it to Russell Crowe again.
But beyond that, I need to mention the most egregious snub of the lot (besides the single solitary major nomination for Memento, which deserved much more than Best Screenplay – I mean, jeez, not recognizing Guy Pearce, at least, is just silly). How can the voters nominate Moulin Rouge for Best Picture without recognizing Baz Luhrmann for Best Director? If any film this year stands as the very image of its director’s singular vision, it’s this one. No one else alive could have made this film, and granting nominations to Robert Altman for directing Masterpiece Theater…er, I mean, Gosford Park, and to David Lynch for coming up with yet another masturbatory chunk of obscure whimsy is simply insane. Luhrmann is one of a handful of modern directors willing to commit completely to a style, a scope and a worldview that is utterly his own. He already won the prize in my head, so to not see his name on the list was a surprise.
Enough of that. And don’t even get me started on the damn Grammys…
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How Portsmouth, New Hampshire’s Say Zuzu haven’t ridden the alt-country wave to a major label contract is beyond me. There are a number of fabulous bands in northern New England, but Say Zuzu comes in at pretty near the top of the heap. They’ve been around for a decade, perfecting and plying their brand of vaguely twangy rock ‘n’ roll to a depressingly small audience. In 1998 they released their masterpiece of a fourth album, the one they’d been building towards since their inception, and they called it Bull. It’s the kind of record that you put on to listen to alone, and instantly wish you had 500 friends who could come over and listen to it with you. In my Face Magazine column of that year, I called it “the best alt-country album released since the breakup of Uncle Tupelo,” and each time I listen to it, I decide that I wasn’t exaggerating.
Say Zuzu is fronted by a couple of top-notch singers and songwriters in Cliff Murphy and Jon Nolan, kind of the Lennon and McCartney of the band. Even though he signed my copy of Say Zuzu’s new album “Yours in rock,” I’ve always kind of preferred Nolan’s work, but over the years both have grown considerably. It’s sad, then, that very little of that growth is in evidence on Every Mile, their just-released fifth album. The songs and tones stay within pretty strict confines, and none of the wild experimentalism of Bull shows up for the party. It’s almost like listening to a different band.
And, in fact, that’s what’s happened. Murphy and Nolan remain the only original members, having welcomed bassist Jon Pistey and drummer Tim Nylander to the band. If Bull was the sound of one unit spreading its wings, Every Mile is the sound of four guys feeling each other out musically. The songs are straightforward, and the record hardly ever deviates from the guitars-bass-drums format.
Not that that’s necessarily a bad thing. In fact, it’s often fascinating to hear this new Say Zuzu coming to terms with itself, and Every Mile is a satisfyingly raw, messy album that documents the process nicely. It also contains some great tunes, the best of which surprisingly sprung from Murphy. “Good Girl” is a sad, slow wonder, and “Don’t Leave” makes its pleading case well. Nolan’s “Postcard” is quite good, and the closing acoustic number, “Still,” is also well done, if not haunting.
Still and all, though, one can’t help comparing this album to the Say Zuzu of old, and it comes up a bit short. The banjo part on the tentative “Sugarbowl” only brings to mind the superior (nay, stunning) “Maylee” on Bull, and rockers like “Doldrums,” fine as they are, recall older, less confident albums. Nolan and Murphy still sing like mud-splattered angels, and their guitar tone, though a bit thicker than on past releases, remains a fine mix of thud and twang. All the ingredients are there, we just need to let this mixture bake a bit longer.
Don’t get me wrong – Say Zuzu are still one of the best bands from the northeast, and Every Mile is worth your purchase. (You can get all their records at www.sayzuzu.com.) For fans who followed them from their early days into one of the best bands in their field, though, it’s kind of depressing that we may have to repeat that process. It’s the paradox of the modern music fan – we want this incarnation of the band to be just as good as the last one, if not better, and we want it right now. Given time, this new Say Zuzu will likely ascend to the heights of their predecessor. That they’re not there yet is cause for anticipation, not alarm.
Next week, too many options. Who can tell?
See you in line Tuesday morning.