“Isn’t everyone happy to be a lemming walking on the cliff and over into the sea?” Well misery does love company, but the musical question being posed by Andy Chase and Brookville on “Happy,” the bouncy little lyrical downer of an opening track on Broken Lights certainly sets a high water mark for the rest of an album filled with tales of relationship ambivalence, two-step-back romance, aimlessness in life, and regained toeholds.
The melancholic pop complexity of the standout “Great Mistake” even advocates the perverse idea of inducing loss — “now [that ] we see the cracks come out” — for a potential greater good, for the adventurous and soul-restorative benefit of a fresh start:
If you really love me, you will let me make
the great mistake of leaving you.
If you really love me you will let me go
to find out what I’m meant to do.
As Broken Lights signifies Chase’s resuming work with Brookville after a break, he can be considered as one who let himself free to “find out what I’m meant to do.” That is, in addition to being a musician in Brookville, the studioholic Chase, as a member of the band Ivy, co-owner of the Unfiltered record label; the producer of artists Juliana Hatfield, Trashcan Sinatras, and Tahiti 80; owner of Stratosphere Sound recording studio along with James Iha (Smashing Pumpkins) and Adam Schlesinger (Ivy, Fountains of Wayne); film composer (Shallow Hal) — needed some time off.
But it turns out what Chase was meant to do, after pulling himself out of some recharging reclusiveness, was tackle the third Brookville album but take a different tack. And ultimately the qualities that most immediately mark the departure CD Broken Lights from the previous two works, Wonderfully Nothing (2003) and Life in the Shade (2006), includes the recording of Chase’s usually ethereal vocals more firmly front and center in a live production by Tahiti 80’s bassist Pedro Resende, with backing by Tahiti 80’s drummer Sylvain Marchand and guitarist Bruce Driscoll.
The other change stems from Chase’s songwriting craftsmanship: for the first time he is writing his lyrics first and building the music around carefully chosen words of pertinence, pensiveness, and power. The result is, except for instances of relative mania like the upbeat “Tell You Love Her” and the wigged-out guitar of “Reunion,” an evocative effortlessness of wistfulness — without the woe.
So while refreshing variations on the theme of the moody confessionals abound, some fun and novelty surrounds the songs of relationships whether run aground or passing in the night. Maybe you can imagine all the outtakes, like the Lennon-like demo tape sonics of “Breakdown," or perhaps more than this: the layered, latter-day Roxy Music lushness of “End of the World.” Whether or not it was intended, I don’t think I can ever stop listening to “Break My Heart” without hearing the sound of the guitar riff in Spandau Ballet’s “True” punctuating the line “You will break my heart,” a seeming certainty reinforced also as it is with the echoes of “I know this much is true.”
But for the most part Broken Lights remains an idiosyncratic yet accessible release, the skewed pop melodiousness topped off with imaginative and personal — and at the same time universal — lyrics, many-hued and intensely human. “Goodbye” perfectly melds that infectiousness with distinctive and defiant inspiration:
I found my needle in the haystack
It pricked my finger I threw it back
Another dream was going off to die
Yet all I felt was relief
When she said goodbye
I don’t love you anymore…
Sorry, but I don’t know if the dreams going off to die are anything like lemmings walking on the cliff and over into the sea. Maybe some metaphors are a little too personal and idiosyncratic.