Sunday, March 11, 2012

I've Never Been a Religous Man, but I've Recently Joined The Church of Rock and Roll, and I Think I Just May Be Saved.

I've bought my fair share of records over the past year and I can say that I have not passionately disliked any of them. Sure, some have simply been "not bad", but at least a decent chunk of them have been good, and some have in fact been quite good: Craig Finn's Clear Heart Full Eyes, Dawes' Nothing is Wrong, Florence + The Machine's Ceremonials, Surfer Blood's Tarot Classics, Wilco's The Whole Love, Explosions in the Sky's Take Care, Take Care, Take Care, Cloud Nothings' Attack on Memory, Cursive's I Am Gemini, Ryan Adams' Ashes & Fire...these are a few of the albums I've bought this year that I like. I am happy I own them.  I like them all and they will not go unlistened to, but as much as I may like all of them, I don't love any of them, and for me that's a problem.

Personally, I need to be obsessed with a record. I want to listen to a record and get excited about it ending so I can start it over again because it's just that good. I want to be engulfed by an album. I want it to destroy and remake me. I want to feel a little emptier when I'm not listening to it. I want to be consumed by it. This is who I am and when I don't have this I feel a little less like me. Just liking something a lot doesn't cut the sauce. Sure, I can always go back and listen to older albums I love and that levels me out enough, but it's never quite the same. Rediscovering an album might be awesome, but it's never quite as special as "discovering" it. And for the last 10 months of my life, I haven't heard anything new that's been good enough to be amazing, good enough to floor me, good enough to be obsessed with. But 29 days ago, I went to see The Darkness at St. Andrews Hall in downtown Detroit. Those Lowestoft, Suffolk boys killed it (not that there was any doubt they would...come on, it's The Darkness), but Foxy Shazam stole the fucking show.

Had you asked me 30 days ago what I thought of Foxy Shazam, I would have told you I don't listen to female rappers,  but then again that would have been 1 day before I watched Foxy Shazam blow the fucking doors off Saint Andrews Hall. Their live show is a spectacle, the songs rocked unbelievably hard and were catchy as all hell, Eric Nally was ridiculously funny, and that voice of his, it sounded bigger than life itself. But above all of that, watching them on stage, you knew you were watching Rock Stars; guys with too much bravado playing songs that were so huge they should be heard in stadiums instead of the relatively small venue I was watching them in. I don't felt like someone was letting me in on a big secret right before it was about be revealed to the world, like the guy who takes the final tally on votes for the Presidential election. Seeing them was like knowing something that would undoubtedly affect the world before the world knew they were going to be affected.

When I got home that night, I cracked open a beer and pulled up Spotify to make sure I heard what I thought I did. I suppose I wanted to make sure the carpet matched the drapes.  It didn't seem possible that a band that electric on stage could convert that energy onto tape (...probably a hard-drive). Within literally 1 second of "Holy Touch", I knew I needed this record. The next morning, I called my local record store (again, if you're in the Ann Arbor, Mi area, stop into Underground Sounds on Liberty between 4th and 5th, across the street from the post record store ever, the owner Matt not only knows his shit but is the shit) and ordered The Church of Rock and Roll. A week later, it arrived, and my life has been infinitely better ever since.

This album isn't just good, it's kind of everything. Sky White is Jim Steinman without the pretension, Loren Turner shreds as major as any other great guitar player from the last 2 decades but without fighting for center stage, and the rhythm section of Daisy Caplan (bass) and Aaron McVeigh (drums) coupled with the one-man horn section that is Alex Nauth that feels very Booker T. and the M.G.'s via Otis Redding. Then there's that voice. Eric Sean Nally is a quarter Freddie Mercury, a quarter Marvin Lee Aday (Meat Loaf), a quarter space alien and a quarter ringmaster at a seedy-ass circus, but wholly Eric Nally. No sound that big should ever come out of a man so small, yet it does and it's amazing.

Then there are the songs...they may on occasion be funny, but these songs are no joke. The relentless hooks of "Holy Touch" alone would make this record a worthwhile listen, but once you toss in the unstoppable rock drive of opener "Welcome to the Church of Rock and Roll", the gutter-gospel of "I Like It", the pop-rock swing of "Last Chance at Love", penitent sincerity of "Forever Together", the beautifully bitter-sweetness of "(It's) Too Late Baby", the no-nonsense swagger of "I Wanna Be Yours", the absolute rock genius of "Wasted Feelings" (my favorite song on the record), the plodding shredfest that is "The Temple", the R&B tinged groove of "The Streets" (my son Finn's favorite song on the album. He's only 1, but that song gets him bopping like nothing else), and the positively anthemic closer, "Freedom", with lyrics that run the gamut of the human condition: from completely inconsequential but entertaining to salaciously sleazy to tender, honest and poignant...Eric Nally knows how lay down a word or two and he makes sure to do it on every fucking song on The Church of Rock and Roll.

But for me, if there's one thing that makes this album matter more to me than any other record right now, it's that it just makes me feel good. I realize I have a lot to be thankful for: a loving wife, a beautiful and hilarious son, 2 incredible dogs, a great family, unbelievable friends, food in my belly and a roof over my head, but life is still really fucking tough. It's tough when you work 45 hours a week (sometimes 50, occasionally more, though that is relatively rare) and still can't make both ends meet. It's tough when you get home from work and it takes all the energy you muster just to keep both eyes open let alone be a functioning husband, father, and dog-father. It's tough when past mistakes and youthful indiscretions seem like they will follow you to the grave, and it's tough when you feel helpless and hopeless virtually all of the time. Life is hard, and when you're holding the short end of the stick, even a handful of hardcore pluses can't cancel out the multitude of minor negatives. Feeling good isn't easy, but it's a whole lot easier with Foxy Shazam.

Dealing with life is no simple task, not for me, not for the majority of the country.  But when The Church of Rock and Roll is spinning on my record player, I forget that I usually can't pay my bills. I forget that I'm overworked and underpaid. I forget that "The American Dream" is a big fucking lie and that hard work doesn't really pay off, it just gives you more stress. I forget that life is usually tough and remember that it also can be sweet. I watch my little man sitting on his knees bouncing to "Holy Tough", "(It's) Too Late Baby", "Wasted Feelings", or "The Streets", and it reminds me that even when things are bad, things can still be good. For a little over a half an hour, I remember that sometimes things rock even when things suck, and for me, that's certainly something worth remembering.

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