Wednesday, July 13, 2016

The Ambitious Muse

Rimbaud and Morrison
Jim Morrison's aspirations as a poet far exceeded his capacities.  Morrison was an adequate rock 'n' roll poet; he was not the psychedelic answer to Keats or Shelley (or Rimbaud for that matter). What possessed him was the muse as overachiever and a hopped-up on-stage presence that promised the audience was in for something radically unexpected. Interspersed were glimmers of genius within an acid-riddled patina. In the 60s, the Keats and Shelleys, the great pop poets, were represented in Leonard Cohen or Dylan, but what they lacked was the vehicle, the sentient conveyance, the looks, the style, the hip-hugger jeans.

All that gets nixed as well in the poetics of Ben Gibbard (Death Cab for Cutie) and Colin Moloy (The Decemberists), a subset of the next gen troupe of American wordsmiths, poets for the 21st Century.

Theory has it that art is an ever-changing style born of ever-changing interests. If true, then David Bowie was rightly Britain's king chameleon. The same could surely apply to Colin Meloy, whose work has shifted over the course of his career from alt. country to indie rock to madrigals, and in What a Terrible World, it's come full circle, back to the folky style of Meloy's college band, Tarkio. The similarity is striking, as if the The Decemberists were revisiting a sound Moloy has missed since his youth. In "The Singer Addresses His Audience," Meloy addresses his fans as if a double edge sword, gratified for their support yet critical of their not allowing the band to evolve in any way, shape or form. That of course is a common complaint or opinion of the masses, yet if all we ever wanted was more of the same, we’d be hard-pressed to listen to anything but The King is Dead or The Crane Wife. Bowie over the years received nothing but grief; from Major Tom to Ziggy to the Thin White Duke, each persona was shunned until the next - so it goes with The Decemberists; it just so happens that in "The Singer Addresses His Audience," Moloy apologizes. That apology remains tongue in cheek, of course, like that poetic note of William Carlos Williams' left on the refrigerator, "This is Just to Say": I have eaten/ the plums/ that were in/ your icebox/ and which/ you were probably/ saving/ for breakfast/ Forgive me/ they were delicious/ so sweet/ and so cold". 

This is a different kind of album, one that more than a year after its release, I'm still listening to. What a Terrible World isn't an AM10, it isn't The Crane Wife, instead it's an infectious AM7; folky, classic, worth the wait, worth your time – the work of a poet.