In “The Questions Simple”, David Hurwitz recites a litany of uncertainties, everything from whether he should quit his band and be a doctor to the nature of love to the problem of life and meaning. He is matter of fact about this, rattling off complicated, internally rhymed lines to the eighth note staccato of guitar, the soft harmonizing flourishes of band member Jeannie Scofield. Still, the song gains momentum and tension as it goes along, finally exploding into something like exuberant abandon. It’s an unlikely end for a song about Hamlet-like indecision, and yet, it’s possibly the whole point that the joy of the song transcends its literal line-by-line reading. Says Hurwitz, early on, “Everything I’ve written you can take apart / The questions can be simple but the answer’s hard.”
Not that that keeps him from asking, you understand. “My Parent’s Religion” is one long stare at the original sin, skittering in nervous complexity over delicate guitar picking. It’s a complicated song, ranging over images of environmental damage, conflict diamonds and conventional morality versus the thirst for knowledge. In a nice updating of the Eden story, Hurwitz opts for knowing, observing, “Now my head is cocked up in a fit of starvation / at some fruit on a branch of a tree that I am shaking / and god will not help me, the devil couldn’t make him / so I give up the hope of future salvation…till the apple fell, the world is not god’s creation/it’s the opposite turned backward by imagination.”
Throughout, the arrangements lift these word-loving, intricate songs into baroque pop exuberance, undercutting anything overly sober with bubbly harmonies, strident rhythms and the sheer power of their hooks. There is, indeed, “a fire in the basement” of these songs, as Hurwitz insists in the album’s closing song (“The Fire”), its heat and light and pure joy spilling out of complicated musical constructs.