Tragedy is often the foundation for great music. Poet Jim Carroll made a name for himself with his autobiographical look at his own drug addiction in The Basketball Diaries, and gained fame as a musician with the song “People Who Died” from his Catholic Boy album. Patti Smith’s first single, "Piss Factory", detailed her anger and frustration over being an abused teenaged factory worker in suburban New Jersey. To this small pantheon of classic art we can now add Bad Astronaut’s Twelve Small Steps, One Giant Disappointment.
The album is a tribute to former Lagwagon drummer Derrick Plourde, who committed suicide in March of 2005. It’s the third and final album of this Lagwagon side project, featuring singer songwriter Joey Cape; Sugarcult guitarist Marko 72 on bass; Angus Cooke on cello and percussion; Thom Flowers on guitar and vocals, Jonathan Cox on keys and programming, and Todd Capps on keyboards and Plourde on drums. Twelve Steps, One Giant Disappointment was a work in progress before Plourde’s untimely death. While other musicians might be tempted to let such a project flounder after a tragedy, Joey Cape re-focused his anger and sadness over his best friends’ death into the album, creating a sometimes joyous, sometimes heartbreaking work that exalts the musical connectivity of himself and Plourde.
Songs like “Go Humans” is more in the realm of Bad Astronaut’s first album Acrophobe, which reminds me somewhat of Grey Suits. The haunting "Minus" is from the post-Plourde sessions, a beautiful look inside Cape’s feelings of being adrift. It’s destined to be an indie classic. But the highlights of this CD are the songs written to/about Derrick. Cape’s lyrics have a surreal visual sense, giving us a view of Cape struggling with the demons the loss of Plourde have unleashed. At points throughout the album, Cape expresses anger at Derrick for leaving him and a sense of calm as he struggles to accept Plourde’s death and move on. With “Stillwater, California”, Cape tips his hat to others that have left including Derrick, the minor chord he drops into right before the devastation is achingly beautiful.
Twelve Small Steps, One Giant Disappointment is a deeply emotional album that resonates with Cape’s love of the music he shared with Plourde and courageous enough to signal an uncertain future. It is a realistic look at how easily the vagaries of life can catch us unaware, an extremely rare message in rock music these days.
Perhaps another project can come out of the ashes of Bad Astronaut. I hope so, because Twelve Small Steps, One Giant Disappointment is an album that dances on the precipice of genius, and presents an uncommon maturity among the mass-marketed claptrap of stunted adolescents.Powered by Sidelines