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Confessions of a Fanboy 007: Guster, Part II

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Stop what you are doing.  Get in your car.  If you’re already in your car you don’t have to stop what you are doing.  You may remain in your car. 

Drive to your nearest music retailer.  Buy Guster’s Keep it Together and Ganging Up on the Sun.  If they do not have these CDs at your retailer, throw a brick through their window and race to a computer and order these CDs.  Then, go to iTunes and download the following songs:

You might be asking yourself why you are paying to download these songs from iTunes when you just ordered the CDs (assuming your music retailer now has a brick where their window used to be).  There is a very good answer for this. You must not allow one more day of your life to pass without hearing these songs! Then, the albums will arrive and you can enjoy the many other wonderful songs on these wonderful albums.

I understand I am being awfully free with your hard-earned money.  If you have never believed a word I have said, believe me now. These records will make your schlong (or your rack if you are sans schlong) bigger. These records will make your ass tighter and your stomach smaller.  These songs will achieve peace in our lifetime and feed the hungry. You will be a better person by 221%!  I can prove it. I wrote an article in the June issue of Scientific Proof Magazine.  I would not steer you wrong.  The birds will sing.  The children will dance.  You must do this, and do it now. 

So you still need convincing?  Just know, while you are stalling, the bits you want larger could be larger and the regions you want shrunk could already be smaller had you just listened to me.  Two or three kids starved while you resisted.  But, if convincing is needed, allow me to provide the persuasion. 

What makes these songs terrific?  I discussed the Ganging Up on the Sun songs with Sir Saleski in our collaborated Fanboy piece.  If you have already read that, you should already own Ganging Up on the Sun.  If you have not done so, there will be a refresher course.  For now, let’s start with the pair from Keep it Together.

“Jesus on the Radio” – This one is easy is to love.  It’s only two minutes.  The banjo and acoustic guitar rollick.  The melody is wonderful, but is the brilliant harmonies that force you to put this song on repeat, repeat, repeat.  It’s the simplest recipe but it makes the finest damn song your ears will hear all day.  You don’t have to work at it.  It’s pleasing to the ears. 

The lyrics, well, I admit there is nothing spectacular about them.  The phrase “Jesus on the radio” is sung one time but not really connected to anything.  They could have said “Martin on the radio” or “Junior on the radio” or any other two syllable name.  The lyrics are not nonsense, they just don’t matter.  Why don’t they matter?  Did I mention the wonderful melody and the brilliant harmonies? 

In the time it took you to read this you should have been able to listen to the full song.  Do you feel that twitch in your finger?  You know, the one that wants to press/click repeat?  Get used to it.  You might need to sue Guster for giving you carpal tunnel syndrome.  This and many of their other songs will cause this same uncontrollable urge.

“Amsterdam” – Apparently this one was something of a hit on alternative/college radio.  Huntsville does not have a decent alternative/college radio station.  We used to get an okay one out of Birmingham and a pretty good one out of Nashville, but not anymore.  So I had never heard this song until I bought the CD.  Fuckin’ Huntsville. 

“Amsterdam” relies a little less on harmony than “Jesus on the Radio” but is no less catchy.  There are little harmonic flourishes but this song is built more around music than voice.  The chorus, though — what a wondrous thing it is and what a lost art it is becoming. 

AC/DC is my favorite example of this (and credit must be given to my friend “M” for pointing this out).  An example:

“Hard as a rock!
Hard as a rock!
Well, it’s harder than a rock!
Hard as a rock!
Well, it’s harder than a rock!”

Let’s take a look at one more from AC/DC:

“I keep a stiff upper lip
And I shoot from the hip
I keep a stiff upper lip
And I shoot
And I shoot
Shoot from the hip”

I like AC/DC.  They are a no-frills rock band with a classic Saturday night sound and they are good for what they do but those are not choruses!  AC/DC is not the only band guilty of this. 

I like the song “All Because of You” by U2 (from their How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb CD).  “M,” a more devoted U2 fan than I, hates it because of this:

“All because of you,
All because of you,
All because of you, I am…”

I like the song but he is right.  That is a shit chorus.  That is actually not a chorus at all.  “M” taunted me about that on multiple occasions.  What could I say?  He was right about the chorus, just not the song.  Then I got my revenge.  “M,” in addition to being a knowledgeable U2 fan, is also a huge Springsteen fan.  He likes a song called “Loose Change” (which is on the Tracks box set).  The refrain of “Loose Change:”

“Loose change in my pocket,
Loose change in my pocket”

I rest my case.  It should be noted not every song needs to have a killer chorus to be a good song.  Personally, I like songs with great choruses and I also like “All Because of You.”  A chorus is not a necessity but if a songwriter is going to write a chorus, it should be a good one.  You want an example of a good chorus?  Check out “Amsterdam:”

“I’m gonna write you a letter
I’m gonna write you a book
I wanna see your reaction
I wanna see how it looks
From way up on your cloud
Where you’ve been hiding out
Are you getting somewhere?
Or did you get lost in Amsterdam?”

That, along with the fabulously catchy music and vocals, is a chorus.  Rejoice, all ye fans of great pop music, there are still songwriters who understand the concept of a great chorus.

The music is a little louder in the mix than the vocals.  This is up-tempo, guitar pop.  There are layers and layers of guitars, a trick their earlier songs did not employ. 

Some of the guitars have that jangle of early R.E.M. while others have a big, rave-up sound that, when combined with a never-ending groove, will force you to move some part of your body while you listen.  Don’t fight it when you get the urge to air-guitar that Pete Townshend windmill trick.  Let the moment take you.  Be the Pete.  Dial 9-1-1 if you are sitting still while listening to this song because your ass is about to die. 

Segue alert!  Segue alert!  It is really a bad thing when I have this much energy and have yet to drink my first caffeinated beverage.  I am actually a little scared.  I think I might explode at some point.  I blame Guster.  Let’s add hyperactivity to the carpal tunnel lawsuit.

“One Man Wrecking Machine” – Let me begin by being a broken record — great chorus.  They do something ingenious with the chorus on this song.  It has certainly been done before, but it is done really well here.  The first few times through the song, while traveling back through time as the song does, this is your chorus:

“I want to pull it apart and put it back together,
I want to relive all my adolescent dreams,
Inspired by true events on movie screens,
I am a One Man Wrecking Machine”

When the song returns to the present, this is your chorus:

“I tried to pull it apart and put it back together,
No point in reliving all my adolescent dreams,
Inspired by true events on movies screens,
I am a One Man Wrecking Machine.”

Some artists would have repeated the same chorus despite the shift in the song.  Guster could have done that and this song would still be great.  That they did not take the lazy way out only makes the song that much better.

“Ruby Falls” – Some songs go seven minutes (and longer) because the artist did not know when to stop.  I get tired when I listen to songs like that.  There is no hard and fast rule when it comes to song lengths.  Compact is probably the best approach most of the time.  There are only a handful of artists that do “epic” well. 

You won’t find many epics on a Guster album.  “Ruby Falls” is an exception and it is a wonderful exception.  “Ruby Falls” is seven minutes because it should be- because it has to be.  It almost plays as a mini-suite with distinct movements.  It is all very cinematic in sound and scope and when you get to the part where they sing, “Two birds give out a song,” you have reached sonic nirvana.

“Dear Valentine” – I am a drum snob even though I have no training as a drummer.  Some drummers do things that turn my neck into an accordion and cause me great fits of anger.  One of the things I hate is a drummer who cannot leave his cymbals alone.  The predictable “crash” causes me fits of uncontrollable rage.  The perpetual pinging feels like gnats flying around in my face.  The persistent patter in “Dear Valentine” won’t go down as my favorite thing but it does feel right for the song.  It amuses me when an artist will do something I normally hate and I like the song anyway. 

“Dear Valentine” wraps a great chorus inside the harmonies of “Jesus on the Radio” and the jangle pop of “Amsterdam.”  No wonder I love it. 

I am dismissive of pop music in my columns and in conversation because of what pop music has become.  In a perverse way, Guster is one of those bands that makes it worse.  This is what pop music could be: hooks and choruses and harmonies and sentiments rather than silly sentimentality.  Pop music sucks but it shouldn’t and doesn’t have to.  Guster is living proof.

By the way, those numbers in the parentheses above reflect the number of times I listened to each of those songs while writing this installment of Confessions of a Fanboy.  Become a better person, save the children, buy some Guster.

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About Josh Hathaway

  • http://www.markiscranky.org Mark Saleski

    my god…what have i done?

  • http://www.djradiohead.com DJRadiohead

    The fact you made it all the way through is thanks enough, Saleski.

  • Mat Brewster

    What happened to the DJ flipping the bird picture? That was right up there with Dawn as Jennifer Anniston, or was it Jennifer Anniston as Dawn, I forget. Either way, I need that picture. Of you and the bird, not of Dawn or Jennifer Anniston, not that Dawn and Jennifer Anniston are bad pictures to have. I have blown those pictures up and hung them above my….oh um, I’ve said too much.

    Good review Sir DJ.

  • http://www.djradiohead.com DJRadiohead

    Sir Brewster, thanks for checking out the screed. I had a brief bout of the paranoia and removed the snapshots from the interweb. I must have forgotten my meds that day— SHUT UP, I’m typing—! Anyroad, I might bring the picture out now that I seem to have recovered from my odd behavior—I SAID I’M BUSY!!— Thanks for reading.

  • Khara

    i toally agree, but while you are at it, check out their first 3 albums, Parachute, Goldfly, & Lost & Gone Forever. More acoustic, more bongos, even better than these 2!

  • http://www.djradiohead.com DJRadiohead

    Khara, glad you found this. I do own all their albums, including the live CD/DVD. I actually prefer these later records to the early ones. I know a lot of fans like the acoustic/bongo stuff better. I like both, prefer the more recent stuff.

    Thanks for commenting!