Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Get Lonely -or- Die Trying

Sometimes when I listen to Mountain Goats records I feel like deep down there actually is a great deal of similarity between the songcraft of John Darnielle and that of Wesley Willis. Now, even though I'm as big a fan of the late-great-homeless-punchintheface-casio-beats wizard as the next guy, most of the time I like to think that there's something more going on with Mountain Goats songs.

But there is something undeniably cut and pastey about Darnielle's approach to his songs that I can't shake. He, of course, would be cut and pasting from some of the strangest and most compelling source material imaginable if he were to do such a thing, but with certain songs, or, to be more accurate, at certain moments of certain songs, he seems to have just searched through a database of emotion enducing images, and pulled up the one most appropriate for the occasion.

The guy has a formula. He'll never write a rambling, Dylan style 11 minute opus. And he'll probably keep the narrative verse, pathos invoking commentary chorus, narrative verse, pathos invoking commentary chorus, extra narrational contextualizing middle eight, narrative verse, pathos invoking commentary chorus (one must look no further than "Wild Sage" for a good example) structure going for as long as he can make it work. And, I suppose, this makes deconstructing the patterning of his songs a little boring.

This, however, this, this is the only bad thing, ever, that I have had to ever say about John Darnielle. Get Lonely is a great record, as are all of his other records, the man is a genius and singlehandedly rescued the simile as a pop-lyrical device. There are moments listening to his albums where you feel like your skull just might crack because you've finally heard the truth and it isn't quite what you expected. If, however, you listen to enough of his less stellar songs with a cynical enough ear, you begin to hear similarities that cast a shade of doubt over the rest of his catalog.

"Was 'Jenny' actually that good?" "When I cried while screaming along to 'This Year' alone in my room, did I mean it or was it all a trick?"

The trick, I'll way-juh, is just the fact that John Darnielle has the ability to flick that switch. Yes, sometimes he's just drawing from his archive of heartbreakingly beautiful images, but its his archive, and he created it, so why not. And "Woke Up New" is as good as anything he's ever written, so why start criticizing now?

If anyone was still concerned that Tallahasee and The Sunset Tree were flukes, Get Lonely is there to prove them wrong. The guy will probably be writing songs about what it's like to get your first social security check when the time comes, writing about the gradual death of his peers, writing even more incisively about mortality as an old man, and I can't fucking wait. That's gonna be awesome.

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