A Quick One, While He’s Away
A Review, a List, and a Flying Spaghetti Monster

I don’t have much time this week, so it’s a short one. Which will probably come as a relief to some of you, after the last two weeks’ behemoths. A quick review, a list, a flying spaghetti monster, and we’re done. I know I promised Fountains of Wayne, but I’m still absorbing it. Next week, I promise.

First, the review. I found my John Davis album, and gave it a few more spins. You’ll remember from last week’s column that Davis put on an excellent show at the Cornerstone Festival this year, and that his self-titled record underwhelmed me when I first heard it, but the concert convinced me to give it another go. And I’m glad I did.

Davis used to be the singer/guitarist for Superdrag, a rocking guit-pop act, and I think I was initially surprised by how little John Davis sounds like his former band. He went all out with the Brian Wilson and Beatles influences here, as well as the blues and gospel elements of his sound, and only a couple of times brought out the Superdrag. I guess I thought the imitations were a little too close, and in some cases they are, but imitating Wilson’s gift for melody is not easy.

The opening track, “I Hear Your Voice,” is classic Brian Wilson – pianos, soaring and unpredictable melodies, and sweet harmonies. “Salvation” hits immediately thereafter, and sounds like the sequel to Sgt. Pepper’s “Getting Better.” These are good songs, but not original ones, and Davis continues in that vein for the whole record, pulling out the power pop (“Me and My Girl”) and the roadhouse blues (“Have Mercy”). It’s well done, but nothing revolutionary.

But I like it a lot more now than I did before, largely because I’ve seen Davis perform these songs live, and seen how much they mean to him. The album is a definite gauntlet – all the songs are about his newfound faith in Jesus, with very little subtlety or metaphor to disguise their evangelical natures. The lyrics lack nuance, as if they were cribbed from old gospel records, and they’re the sort of thing that’s easily dismissed. I’m afraid that’s what I did the first time I played this album – I heard little musical innovation and no lyrical artistry, and tossed it aside.

And then I saw Davis play “Jesus Gonna Build Me a Home,” and felt how genuine this material is, and somehow, the album has come to life for me. It’s still not an earth-mover, but there are songs I love on it, particularly “I Hear Your Voice” and “Lay Your Burden Down.” John Davis is a definite challenge to fans of its author’s old stuff, but if you can follow him through his still-clumsy faith lyrics and into this new pop-oriented style he’s pursuing, it’s rewarding. I give Davis credit for making an album that obviously came from his heart, and for winning me over with his terrific live performance.

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July is barren, empty, worthless. Seriously, I’m buying nothing at all until the end of the month. There’s literally nothing interesting making its way to record stores before the 26th, though I’ll gladly recant that statement if anyone can change my mind. The 26th sees the new Bob Mould, Body of Song, and after his last crap-o-rama, Modulate, I’m not even excited about that. Oh, and Stephin Merritt of the Magnetic Fields releases his Two Chinese Operas, which doesn’t thrill me either.

But August is pretty sweet. We start on the second, with the long-awaited return of Michael Penn. His new one is called Mr. Hollywood Jr. 1947, Part One, and he swears that Part Two is coming soon, despite the six-year gap between this album and his last one. I shall believe that when I see it. Hell, we have a track listing, cover art and a release date for Part One, and I will still be skeptical until I have the bugger in my hands. Anyway, also on August 2 is the new solo album from Doug Pinnick, Emotional Animal. Pinnick is the bassist/singer of King’s X, and their new record has great buzz. They just signed to Inside Out Records, too, which is good news.

Richard Thompson makes an appearance on August 9 with a new acoustic collection, Front Parlour Ballads. He’s an underrated guitarist – much better than his most appropriate comparison, Eric Clapton. (As I type that, I’m already steeling myself for the hate mail…) Supergrass roars back with Road to Rouen, their fifth album, on the 16th. Their fourth, Life on Other Planets, made a strong showing in my 2002 Top 10 List. Also on the 16th is the new Cowboy Junkies, Early 21st Century Blues, and the four-CD Johnny Cash box set, The Legend.

The month closes out with the third album from the New Pornographers, Twin Cinema. I am a recent convert to the pop wonders of A.C. Newman and Neko Case, so I’m looking forward to this one. Also on the 23rd is a box set of live Yes, called The Word is Live. (Ho ho…) Then on the 30th, we get a deluge – the new Death Cab for Cutie (Plans), the second OK Go (humorously titled Oh No), and new records from Joy Electric (The Ministry of Archers) and Our Lady Peace (Healthy in Paranoid Times). I plan to pick up all of those, and the new Iron Maiden live album, which ought to get me some interesting looks from the record store clerk.

September, by contrast, is great. We start the month with Elbow’s Leaders of the Free World, which promises to change not a thing from the laconic, majestic first two records. The following week, the 13th, is like an avalanche. Ready? We have the new Paul McCartney, Chaos and Creation in the Back Yard, which he did almost entirely solo (like his first couple of records), with Nigel Godrich producing. We have the second of three planned Ryan Adams albums, called (fittingly) September. We have the new Sigur Ros, which has an actual title this time (Takk), and actual song names. Word is that they ditched their made-up language, too, and sung in Icelandic, not that anyone on these shores will notice the difference.

But wait! We also have the solo debut from Rob “Catherine Wheel” Dickinson, called Fresh Wine for the Horses. We have the seventh Tracy Chapman album, Where You Live, which has some good advance buzz. And we have, finally, the long-delayed release of the new Bloodhound Gang album, which was supposed to be called Heavy Flow. I loved that title, as it refers to both rapping and menstruating, but they have changed it to the similar-sounding Hefty Fine, presumably to avoid the very thing it describes.

We’re not done yet. September 20 sees the new Coheed and Cambria, which sports this ass-acher of a title: Good Apollo, I’m Burning Star IV, Volume One: From Fear Through the Eyes of Madness. I’m serious. That’s really the title. Even Neil Peart would choke on that one, but the C&C guys often live up to such pretensions. We shall see. In direct contrast, we also have Def Leppard, who have given their collection of covers the most concise name possible: Yeah.

Rounding out the month is System of a Down, who hits on the 27th with Hypnotize, the second half of their double record. Also on the 27th is Ca Ira, a double-disc opera (not the rock type) from Roger Waters. It’s all strings and high singing, and it’s about the French revolution, so you can imagine how excited I am to hear it. (Note sarcasm.) I’ll check it out, because it’s Waters, but he needs to do another Amused to Death before he grows too old to be pissed off anymore…

And that’s it, or at least, that’s all I’ve managed to nail down to firm release dates and titles. As usual, this list is not meant to be comprehensive, but rather a small overview of what you can expect to read about in more depth in this very space for the next few months. If you have any recommendations for me of things I might like that I failed to mention, send me an email. If you’re writing me because you’re angry that I’m not going to review Fat Joe or the posthumous Ol’ Dirty Bastard album, don’t waste your time.

* * * * *

And finally, the flying spaghetti monster.

Surely many of you have read about the Kansas school board, and their attempts to get the theory of intelligent design (which they would not like to hear called a “theory”) taught in science classes along with evolution. They have gone so far as to propose changing the definition of science – traditionally, the word has referred to theories based on observable and repeatable phenomena, but the Kansans would like to expand that definition to include religious beliefs as valid alternatives. All well and good, if it weren’t a public school system, and if “science class” were the place to teach, you know, non-science.

Anyway, this is the finest and funniest response I have seen. A flying spaghetti monster is just as observable and provable as an invisible man in the sky, as far as science classes are concerned, so I say equal time for all. Thanks to Chris L’Etoile for sending me this.

And with that, I bid you adieu. Fountains of Wayne next week, honest.

See you in line Tuesday morning.