[3 September 2003]
Hollywood has long been referred to as high school with money. The music industry, by comparison, is considered junior high school with money. To me, that’s being generous. If anything, the music industry is kindergarten with money. Musicians, grown men and women, throw temper tantrums if their dressing rooms have Aquafina instead of Evian. Meanwhile, the record labels, acting as their surrogate parents, dutifully play the role of enabler by plying their meal tickets with booze and surrounding them with sycophants, then acting shocked and dismayed when the occasional musician overdoses. Tragic. We’re only going to get one or two more greatest-hits albums out of them now. Bastards. How dare they die on us like that?
One game that the kids both on the playground and in the music industry play on a daily basis is Kick the Can. The smaller, weaker kids tend to get exploited the most, but the popular kids are by no means exempt. One of the most popular targets right now, in a fit of hipster backlash cool, is Ryan Adams’s can. Which isn’t to say that the recent bashing of Adams is undeserved: his mockery of balladeer Bryan Adams, staged night after night to look like an improvised fit of righteous indignation, was pathetic. The alleged fights with his record label are a joke. (Seriously, Ryan, if the label says your unreleased material is junk, they’re probably right. And it’s their money anyway, so shut up.) And now he’s talking about reuniting Whiskeytown? Is he sure the rest of the band wants him back?
This kicking of Adams can only be a good thing for Patrick Park. He writes good songs, has as smooth a voice as Americana has seen, and most importantly, he seems to be a standup guy, so there’s no ego hangover from admiring the talents of some arrogant dilettante. Loneliness Knows My Name, Park’s major label debut, may mark (we can only hope) the return of Earnest Nice Guy Rock.
The Ryan Adams comparisons, truthfully, are lazy. Parallels do exist, but they come early and leave almost as quickly. “Thunderbolt”, the album’s leadoff track, sports a wailing harmonica while Park picks at his acoustic and tells the tale of a girl whose siren song drags men to the rocks both metaphorically and literally, and a case can be made for having a Adamsesque feel to it. The difference, though, is that Loneliness is mixed by the impeccable Bob Clearmountain, whose ears are so finely tuned that they should be insured by Lloyd’s of London. Adams would never tolerate something so pristine.
The other difference between the two is that Park doesn’t sound as if he’s on the tail end of a three-day bender. In fact, he recalls Semisonic’s Dan Wilson far more often than anyone else. Indeed, the waltz of “Nothing’s Wrong” seems cut from the same cloth as Semisonic’s “She’s Got My Number”, both being about women that are impossible to leave, no matter how well documented your brain’s arguments are for why the girl should be kicked to the curb. Park, refreshingly, may have lousy luck with women, but despite referring to some as “Past Poisons”, he seems to know that he shares the blame in the end. Bitter recriminations don’t become him, and thank heaven for that. Aimee Mann and Elliott Smith have that market cornered anyway.
Loneliness Knows My Name is the kind of record that marketing people scoff at, saying, “We can’t sell that”. The implication, of course, is that the music couldn’t possibly sell itself, even though the best success stories of the last five years have been the ones where the artist found mainstream popularity in spite of the pop music juggernaut, not because of it (step forward, David Gray). In reality, the best thing that Patrick Park can hope for is to not find success instantly, so that he can cultivate a devoted fan base and grow on his own terms, a la Guster. Patrick Park is good now, and he’s going to get better. What more can you ask?