It’s no mistake that Bob Schneider’s debut album Lonelyland seems a bit of a scattered mess: at first listen, it appears the Austin-based singer-songwriter has got a bit genre-happy and tried to be everything to everyone from the get-go. Not an uncommon path to trod for musicians just out of the gate. By now, though, this is common territory for Schneider—it’s just he’s been Austin’s best-kept secret until now.
Here’s where the step back comes into effect for this critic; while the 14-track solo debut is a mess, running the gamut in styles, it’s not necessarily messy. What he does, he does quite well, whether it’s tapping into the acoustical relaxed side of Dave Matthews (“Metal and Steel”) or delving into territory only white boy funk hipster G. Love has gone before him (“Bullets”), he delivers. And, while both—and most any tune on Lonelyland, mind you—would easily be accepted on the radio waves, this effort definitely deserves some respect.
If he’s this good, where exactly has he been? Well, Texas, apparently. And, rather than whiling away his hours hiding under the larger-than-average rocks there, he’s been writing. A lot. Three hundred songs worth. But there’s been nowhere to go with them, apparently, as they didn’t quite fit into the repertoire of the other three bands he spearheaded, Ugly Americans among the more memorable.
Maybe that’s why he’s busting loose all over Lonelyland—because he’s finally been granted that opportunity. It’s not like any budding musician can get away with a thinly disguised cha cha number comparing all things skyward—the moon, the sun, the wind—to the way a girl smiles and expect a serious reaction (“Moon Song”). But, again, it could be it exists to allow the response of moving hips is all. Other chances Schneider takes are jaunts that tip the scales at over seven minutes each on both “Madeline” and “Oklahoma”. Not exactly pre-packaged and radio-ready.
Where’s this outing taken him so far? How’s nine awards at the 2000’s Austin Awards Show at SXSW strike you? Schneider made out like a bandit there winning, among others, Musician of the Year, Best Male Vocalist, Best Song Writer, and Band of the Year. Not too shabby for a guy who gets to come home to girlfriend Sandra Bullock all at the same time.
Rounding out this debut of sorts is “Tokyo”, with a hook destined to plague the mind of those within earshot for days on end and the almost quaint “2002”, a look to the future and how he doesn’t even think about his “baby” anymore.
A record store in Austin has already sold over 15,000 copies of the self-released disc. It remains to see if the rest of the nation will be smart enough to follow suit.