Why you gotta be so mean?
A four-song fuck you from Spencer
Songs about love, unrequited and not, are basically the foundation of pop music. Songs about active dislike, not so much.
Sometimes one leads to the other, though. Fleetwood Mac basically rules the breakup song category, with a whole band in utter dysfunction and an entire album to prove it. And it was a lost girl that fueled Bon Iver’s trip into the woods: “And now all your love was wasted, and then who the hell was I?”
Locally, Wes Hartley and Dead End Armory got off a good breakup line or two, like this gem from “Hope You’re Good”: “It reminds me of the time you stuck a gun to my temple and made me beg for forgiveness / Aren’t I good enough to stay?” And who can forget KGFREEZE’s boast that he’s “got a better falsetto than the motherfucker you’ve been raving about”?
Thus far in Spencer Albee’s long and well-documented local career, he’s always leaned toward the Beatles’ stock in trade (all “I love you yeah, yeah, yeah” — with the possible exception of “Where You Been” off the School Spirit Mafia record, which is awfully jealous). Truly, he’s penned any number of bouncy love songs, including “So Good,” with one of the better descriptions of compatibility: “I start to sing a song I thought no one else could hear / But you knew all the words.”
But the time has now come when Love Is Not Enough, a four-song fuck you to a girl who’s done him wrong (it’s a small town, so we won’t get into particulars). The title track pretty much says it all: “You’re fucking him / You’re fucking me / Where lies the truth? / It’s in between.” Ouch.
Damn if that song ain’t catchy, though, in a dystopic kind of way. There’s nothing like personal strife for inspiring creative expression. It’s hard not to hear a little “Sector Z” from Albee’s Rustic Overtones days in the spacey keyboard lasers, and they’re balanced nicely by xylophone pings and digitized strings and growling low end. Perhaps best of all, there is that piano pounding, whether rippling single notes or big chords, that used to be such a foundation to Albee’s music, but had been recently replaced by guitars acoustic and electric.
The piano certainly drives “So Long,” the most purely pop track here and the one that reveals just how cut to the bone Albee really is: “I caught you in a corner, and like the rat you are, you tried to chew through me / If you had been more honest, just imagine how much better life would be.” It’s goofy and playful, sure, but those reverbed and doubled vocals in the chorus reflect what’s clearly a deep well of anger.
Lucky for us he’s funneled that ire into rumbling, oompa bass lines like these.
The bass line that follows the feedback open to “One2Three” is particularly tasty in opposition to a glockenspiel kind of thing: “She said, ‘Baby I’ve been sleeping / With secrets I’ve been keeping.’” It’s sedate, child-like, narcotized. The PTSD of love lost, with an “A Day in the Life” primal yell in the background for the finish and an anguished entreaty in “please remember me.”
It’s all just so different in temperament from the big happy family of Spencer and the School Spirit Mafia or the aggressive bombast of As Fast As or even the self-assured confidence of Spencer, which we were discussing not much more than a year ago. This is the sound of a kid who’s been through the wringer. Hard not to harken back to that Mafia track, “Way of the World”: “And the boys like the girls, and the girls act like they don’t / But it’s just the way of the world.”
Shit happens. And then you write a song in a weird operative voice, like “I Don’t Know,” and finish up doing a Frankie Valli thing and life goes on. Spencer’s still going to write with a poppy bounce, the bridge just might be a little more accusatory than usual: “I can’t believe a word you say / How can you treat a man this way?”
There was talk of an LP for New Year’s. It hasn’t happened yet. Will Albee continue in this vein, giving in to his darker half in a way we haven’t seen before? Let’s hope so.