Does Rob Crow actually care about his music? As I listened to Crow’s 18-song headscratcher, My Room Is a Mess, that question repeatedly came to mind. The one sheet that accompanied this disc declares Rob Crow to be a songwriting genius, throwing out any genre-imposed boundaries that afflict his contemporaries. Instead of taking a variety of influences and turning it into a singular vision, My Room Is a Mess is just that: a mess. A sprawling junkyard of an album, Crow fails to commit to any of his songs, and the result is an album that feels like a novelty at best, and a toss-off at worst. In interviews, Rufus Wainwright calls each of his songs “children”, talking about them like a loving parent, and it’s this affection that is lacking in My Room Is a Mess. Crow seems to avoid committing emotionally or musically to his songs, and if he doesn’t care about them, why should I?
Rob Crow has been nothing short of a prolific performer on the San Diego scene. Heavy Vegetable, Thingy, Pinback, Optiganally Yours, Physics, and Alpha Males have all been Crow projects that have been well received by critics and fans alike. Varying in style, at least each of these bands had a singular musical purpose. On his third solo effort, and his first in seven years, Crow uses My Room Is a Mess as a dumping ground for all his influences, resulting in album that veers incoherently and wildly in style.
The opening three songs are indicative of the album’s freewheeling aesthetic. The thirty-seven second “Never Alone” is a synth-driven “homage” to boy-band pop, complete with Crow accompanying himself on multiple overdubbed vocal tracks. Clever? Somewhat, but the joke wears away before the end of the track. “Beyond Him” is a passable pop number, led by a delicate acoustic guitar and Crow’s wavering vocals. Suddenly, “Jedi Outcast”, Crow’s nod to death metal, jumps in from out of nowhere. Again, another ironic take on a musical genre, but it has no place on this album. It’s not clever or enjoyable, and it is a grating take on a genre that is much better than the honor Crow bestows upon it with this track.
My Room Is a Mess continues to move erratically over the musical map on the album’s remaining 15 tracks. “Last Bus from the Che” is an Elliot Smith-inspired number, with earnest vocals and desperately played guitar. “Helicopter” is an embarrassing take on new wave, complete with coldly delivered vocals. Trip-hop is skewered in the bland “Some Things”. When Crow plays it straight, the results are more enjoyable, as the album’s centerpieces, “Kill All the Humans” and “Over the Summer” offer a rare glimpse into Crow’s songwriting prowess.
But this glimpse is far too fleeting, as it is lost among the dreck that populates the bulk of My Room Is a Mess. Crow is a gifted and capable songwriter, but listening to My Room Is a Mess you can almost feel the smirk that must’ve been on Crow’s face as he recorded this album in his bedroom. There is no doubt he felt quite proud of himself as he created his cynical takes on the plethora of musical genres presented here. But it is this self-important, indie rock snobbery that is the album’s downfall. Rather than corralling these influences and turning them on their ear, Crow merely aped them for what he felt would be a good joke. Unfortunately, he doesn’t care about these songs or even mock them in manner that is close to mildly amusing. My Room Is a Mess succeeds only in a making a joke out of a listener picking this up and expecting anything resembling a concerted pop effort.