C’Mon get Happy
Reveling in Spose’s Medium for the masses
Spose will soon release a new album on a major label, Universal Republic [actually, that didn’t happen]. Happy Medium is not it. The answer to the question, “Why,” is the subject of another story.
Regardless, it comprises 12 tracks that were apparently not major label material. Or maybe they were, but there’s an idea Spose can do even better. Most likely it doesn’t matter.
If “Pop Song” and “Can’t Get There from Here” and “Into Spose” are major-label wrong, I don’t want to hear what’s major-label right.
The greatness of Spose is that he’s exactly the guy who made “I’m Awesome” and so much more than that. He can revel in the ridiculous without being a clown. He’s aggressive, passive-aggressive, silly, sarcastic, dead-serious, a chameleon, staying the same shape (a smirk) internally as his outside flutters through the veneers he layers on the window through which you view him.
Or, to quote “Into Spose,” which features a magnificent guest turn on the chorus from Space Vs. Speed, “all the gangster rappers want me dead / The artsy rappers want me dead from a zombie plague.”
Ultimately, the irony of “I’m Awesome” only works if Spose, indeed, is awesome. Just imagine the ego necessary to pull this whole persona off. To self-identify as a weed smoker as tightly as a predicate nominative, to refer to yourself as Peter Sparker (you know, like the secret identity of the weed-smokin’est super hero?), to be the absolute best at self-denigration and self-slander (the remix of “I’m Awesome” here with Mac Lethal has even more verses in the same vein), and still manage to come off sounding smarter and more impressive than just about everyone else.
That kind of complete lack of self-doubt is contagious. Somehow, he’s created for himself a secret identity in plain sight.
I’ve written about the brilliance of “Pop Song” in the review of this year’s GFAC 207 disc, but it needs restating. Not only does it have two choruses of impeccable quality, one Weezer rock, the other Dr. Luke dance hit. Not only does Spose elegantly walk the fine line between pompous high-minded dick and completely sympathetic and lovable tortured-artist-type. Not only is it just a blast to listen to. But it’s also the truth.
Every fan you have that attracted the label in the first place loves you for what you are and you hear, “Spose, you’re not fucking Rick Ross / We want something more like Ke$ha, ‘Tik Tok’ … Really Spose, would it be that cataclysmic / To make a couple songs for top 40 and rhythmic?”
“If you’re not up to the task / Grab your bags / Call a cab / It’s too bad, b / Because we want you to write a pop song.”
And I just love that form of address, “b,” that he inserts, so perfectly encapsulating the exec who tells himself he “gets it,” while not having a fucking clue about the way people are exposed to music nowadays and consume it, yet it’s his exact job to know that.
But does anyone in the real world care about this shit? Does it only play to music nerds like me? Is this the “substance” he claims to need in this album’s title track? Or is it just more rapping about rapping, the empty, intellectually bankrupt crap that Spose is supposedly railing against?
Sometimes, it really doesn’t matter. The way the sultry, gal-vocal “You can’t get there from here” line [actually, it’s a guy: Sicky-1 aka Doctor Astronaut] is delivered in the midst of that song’s chorus is the perfect capper to a track that’s undeniably catchy, even if the entire substance is “look at me: I ‘made it’ from Maine. Isn’t that crazy?”
How long does the bloom last on that juxtapositional rose? You can’t play the underdog card when you’re on top. And Spose likes to remind people he’s on top on Happy Medium, that he “made it,” which I think he basically did, but I don’t think even he thinks he’s made it a quarter far enough.
And there is substance there. Get from where? “From where teenage moms and their babies dwell / Where people downgrade from cocaine to oxy pills.” Anybody see the cover of the Press Herald last week? Well, of course you didn’t. But they reported that Maine is first in painkiller addiction. And people acted like they were shocked!
Like A-Frame’s recent record, and as he’s done all along, Spose looks at the Maine underbelly and is neither surprised nor impressed by what he sees there.
People talk about Maine being poor like it’s funny. But there’s nothing funny about true poverty right under your nose. Poverty comes with violence and despair and inhumanity, and we don’t like to either talk about those things in our cities and towns or hear about them in our pop songs.
“Christmas Song” is thoughtful, too, with a narrative too hard to sum up here that’s at least half true. Just know that retired WCSH newscaster Susan Kimball does a cameo. And “Sketchball” is actually genuinely inspirational, I think, Spose reaching out to those Mainers who are going exactly nowhere: “It’s never too late to get your groove back … it is alright if you suck at life.” But most of the disc is summed up by the battle-like “In This Bitch”: “I can tell you about Israel and Palestine / But I’d rather show these sucker rappers how to rhyme.”
There’s just enough substance to make you a believer while you’re singing along to some very fun shit. Because he can definitely rhyme, influenced by and comfortable in the company of Snoop and Del and De La Soul and the Live Poets and Aesop Rock and Atmosphere. Or, as he puts it, “I’m a mix of John Steinbeck and Biggie Smalls.”
Yeah, I like that. Or a mix of Mark Twain and Grand Puba. Or…