[13 March 2011]
If nothing else, you gotta give Chain and the Gang frontman/driving force Ian Svenonius (late of Nation of Ulysses and Weird War, among others) credit for heading off any critical brickbats before they can be swung at his band’s sophomore album. His defense is right there in the album title: “Don’t like it? That’s OK, cuz—ahem—Music’s Not For Everyone.” Odds are, however, he won’t have to resort to that sneer. Keeping the lo-fi, yes-I-know-the-seams-are-showing garage charms of 2010’s Down With Liberty… Up With Chains! in place, Svenonius continues to hone his caustic, complicated wit over Music’s 14 tracks, while still remaining the coolest M’Fer in the room, hopeless devoted to his “anti-freedom” agenda.
Svenonius’ m.o. is firmly in place on the opening “Why Not?”: over a shambling blues shuffle, he mumbles into the mic “Who cares anymore?” and runs off a laundry list of reckless behavior (including getting in a car with a stranger and ignoring a doctor’s note). It all sounds like the love child of Billy Childish, Cracker’s David Lowery and Calvin Johnston (whose K Records Svenonius calls home). Elsewhere, he tightens up his sound for “Detroit Music” and “Detroit Music II”, a garage/soul/techno blast that almost comes within shouting distance of Mick Collins’ work with the Dirtbombs. The former tune shares Svenonius’ recipe for rockin’, Motor City-style, while part two is a monster jam that may be the album’s (unplanned) high point. Seriously—the thing cooks.
That is, unless Svenonius is being ironic about rocking out unironically; it’s hard to tell with him. Presumably, to his mind, the title track is the album’s centerpiece. And while said titular notion could be wielded against critics, it more accurately plays as a screed against casual listeners—those who may like music, but don’t bleed it. It’s nice to believe in music as a unifying force, but it’s also true that Svenonius’ Music Snob Theory dwells in many of our hearts. Backed by a five-minute chanted dirge designed to clear the room after the appealing “Detroit Music II”, Svenonius separates Us from Them with only a few cutting lines (“They like to say, ‘Hey, it’s my friend’s birthday.’ I wanna hear some rap!’”), and some arguments that artists as wide-ranging as Beethoven and Wanda Jackson weren’t meant for “everyone”. Being upfront about snobbery is an interesting concept, but it doesn’t necessarily merit repeat listens. I say listen to it once and then defend or destroy Svenonius’ theory on your music blog.
The album fares much better when Svenonius isn’t treating songs as diatribes. His laconic smart-ass-itude carries him through the slacker love duet (with Sarah Pedal), barely held together by a rickety piano line, “For Practical Purposes (I Love You)” and two parodies of ‘70s-era socially conscious funk, “Livin’ Rough” and “(I’ve Got) Privilege”. Meanwhile, “Can’t Get Away” could be a bouncy ‘60s pop nugget, if Svenonius’ narrator wasn’t gripped by a massive identity crisis, culminating in repeated encounters with his doppelganger. Svenonius’ cockeyed worldview is much easier to take, and his jokes that much funnier, when he’s not lecturing audiences.