Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Yesterday on ILX I posited that Elvis Costello was the Conor Oberst of his day and that This Years Model was his Read Music/Speak Spanish. My logic is that both guys are talented, egocentric, sex-mad singer-songwriters who released a ton of material but basically said all they had to say the first time they got together with a smart, sympathetic, uptempo backing band. Everything before was the evolution of a persona and everything since has been increasingly pretentious reaffirmations of their shtick (Lifted=Armed Forces). Those sympathetic to their tightly wound come-ons, folks who either want to be in their shoes or get in their pants (a select few get nostalgiac), will buy tickets for varying lengths of time, but most eventually grow tired of their inability to evolve emotionally despite the change in sonic scenery (waning hookcraft won't help, either).

So why doesn't Conor Oberst sound like Elvis Costello? What happened during the 20 year interim between these two nerveherders' heydays?

This guy.

While the Cure in no way invented mope, they were the guys who created the context where it was ok for fragile overwraughtness to be your defining characteristic. Your selling point. Your beauty. A good comparison is Led Zeppelin's relationship with bombast. You can point out the Yardbirds (Joy Division), Black Sabbath (Smiths), Hendrix (Joy Division), etc., but Zeppelin took it to previously unfathomable dimensions, removed it from earthbound context, set the standard and made the over-the-top commonplace. There was more to Zep than "ka-BOOM!" (just as there's more to the Cure than "SOB!"), but they dignified rockers who just want to shoot lasers out their dicks just as the Cure dignifies bands who do nothing but cry their brains out.

These are generalizations, but I think they help explain why Conor Oberst is so goddamn intolerable for so many. The man is mixing sour chocolate with peanut butter that's way past the expiration date. An Elvis Costello who whimpers. A Robert Smith who thinks he's the next Dylan. While I'll stand by the one album where Oberst respected his Attractions and keep a hits comp, I understand if you'd rather get the gun.

(Accidentally deleted my Roots post. Thanks to the folks who commented. Sum-up: I'm going to get Phrenology if I find it cheap and you should watch the video for "The Next Movement" on Launch.)

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