[29 March 2012]
There’s something distasteful about those who use the word survivor lightly. One can find buttons, t-shirts, and bumper stickers with the slogans of food concoctions, carnival rides, and political campaigns that say “I survived __________” as if the person did something incredible by doing something as dumb as eating a jumbo ice cream sundae. Singer-songwriter Pegi Young, wife of Neil, named her band the Survivors and it’s hard to know what she references here—life with a famous rock star? This is a cheap shot. Pegi and Neil’s son Ben has cerebral palsy, and they both have been active via the non-profit Bridge School in helping children with severe speech and physical impairments. However, the music on Pegi’s latest CD is mostly so lightweight that it belies the heaviness of the band’s name. One expects more from a release entitled, Bracing for Impact.
The music is pleasant enough, but listening to the CD is like drinking a pitcher of cold beer and finding out it’s alcohol-free. By the time one is done hearing the first three cuts—and yes, the last one is called “Trouble in a Bottle”—you realize something is missing. It tastes okay, but the kick is missing. There is no altered state of consciousness to go with the bloated feeling.
Pegi Young wrote eight out of the 11 tracks. The best ones are purposefully generic, such as “Number 9 Train” and “Lie”, whose titles reveal their broad concerns. There can never be too many songs about trains or cheating lovers, and while neither of these two is destined to be a classic, they work the formulas with an agreeable intensity. The latter features Neil on electric guitar, but his contribution here is minimal (Kelvin Holley’s axe is more prominent). Neil did contribute one cut, the humorous and funky “Doghouse”. While it’s fun to hear Pegi literally howl at her hubby for staying out too late in words Neil himself wrote, that’s about all there is to the song.
Music critics sometimes use the disparaging term “dad rock” to categorize a type of adult-oriented music performed by middle-aged performers whose energy level and middle class concerns seem almost antithetic to the real thing. This music could be categorized as the distaff version, “mom rock”, despite all the guys (e.g., Spooner Oldham, Rick Rosas, Phil Jones) that play in the band. This may be obvious on tracks like “Daddy Married Satan”, “Flatline Mama”, “Song for a Baby Girl”, and “Doghouse” because of their lyrical concerns, but it’s true of virtually every tune here.
So she survived motherhood? That’s no great accomplishment. Millions do this everyday. I am not knocking the difficulty she faced by having a child with cerebral palsy; I just wish she would have written and sang songs that reflected the real pain and joys of doing so. This does not have to be autobiographical, but passionate. She covers Danny Whitten’s poignant lament, “I Don’t Want to Talk About”, where he wrote about hiding the details of a broken romance but the importance of listening to one’s heart. That’s what I am talking about, and by singing that song it seems Pegi Young understands the significance of putting strong feelings across. She should follow Whitten’s lead in her own songs.