One of the more pleasant surprises in the young year has been the return, after six years, of the Breakup Society, the nom de rock of Ed Masley, power pop lover and keen-eyed chronicler of the eternally disappointed and disaffected, with his third album, So Much Unhappiness, So Little Time…. Fortunately, for those of us in tune with Masley’s take on the world, time has only provided more instances of relationships crumbling for Masley to document. And with a new lead guitarist in tow—Scott Marceau tags in for Greg Anderson, who held the reins for 2007’s Nobody Likes a Winner—the band still rocks out, giving listeners something to enjoy if they’re not in the mood to wallow in Masley’s lyrics.
Though he calls Arizona, where he’s the rock critic for The Arizona Republic, home these days, Masley’s firmly in the heartsick Midwestern songwriter tradition of Paul Westerberg and Craig Finn, though without the former’s dipsomania or the latter’s religiosity and apotheosis of “the scene”, (with a dash of Fountains of Wayne’s power pop for grown-ups as well) and tunes like “Your Invitation to Quit” (“Don’t mistake this for a fight / And don’t pretend you want to stay now”) and “Another Day in the Life” and “Here Comes Floyd”—about an aging groupie, and a letch trying to make a buck off a naive girl, respectively—are within shouting distance of the Mats’ and Hold Steady’s best work.
Time and again, Masley’s characters are looking back at lives that don’t quite align with their dreams: “The Next Reunion”, where the narrator’s high school classmates are waiting, knives sharpened; the couple that prefers the imagined version of themselves on “The Way We Weren’t” (penned by John Wesley Harding!); “Another Day”‘s aforementioned groupie trying to fit into her teenage-era jeans. These characters are loaded with regret, but not the desire or ability to change. To wit, from “8th Circle of Hell”, what may be the quintessential Breakup Society scenario: “I pray the lord my soul to keep me here right here with you in the 8th circle of Hell”. In Masley’s world, misery always loves company.
For all of Masley’s ability to channel miserable characters, it’s funny, then, that the most clever/telling son on Unhappiness is “Mary Shelley”, the one where he expressly distances himself authors from sadsack narrators: (“Now John Lennon was no walrus / William Shakespeare was not MacBeth”), and in a stinging brush-off to those who feel like they “get” him: “I doubt we’d even get along”. Ouch.
As long as there are sad bastards out there who love to air-windmill guitar, there will be a place for the Breakup Society.
- Multiple songs MySpace