[20 May 2009]
And here we thought we’d never get another Grandaddy album.
When Grandaddy broke up, it would have been perfectly natural to think we’d heard the last of that band’s sound. Just Like the Fambly Cat was a sad little album that was an unfortunate death knell for Grandaddy. By the time it was released, the band as we knew it had already been broken up for something like six months, apparently because indie bands that garner great reviews and relatively small audiences of hugely devoted fans just don’t make the kind of money that pays for a decent mortgage. It’s a sad reason for a band to break up, but idealism and the love of the music go a lot farther for the average musician when said musician is 20 than when that same musician is creeping up on 40.
It’s been three years since the Fambly Cat, and the inevitable solo album from Grandaddy’s frontman and driving force has arrived. It’s called Yours Truly, the Commuter, and the commuter, rather transparently, is Lytle himself. He’s home now, and for all the wonder of the world out there, home is where he wants to be.
Maybe it shouldn’t be all that surprising that home sounds an awful lot like Grandaddy.
Yours Truly, the Commuter is shot through with Lytle’s all-but-trademarked brand of breathy vocals and lackadaisical instrumentation—if you’ve spent the last three years missing Grandaddy, Yours Truly, the Commuter will absolutely scratch that itch. Lytle played all of the instruments himself, put all of it together via overdubbing, sang over the top of all of it, and called it an album. On first listen, it’s easy to wonder what those other two guys did anyway.
Keep listening, however, and what you hear is a man trapped in his own head. The instrumentation fits the vocals, and vice versa, because all of it is coming from the same place. That place is not a happy place, but it’s a hopeful one, one that’s thankful for the small things but aware of the big things, a place where saturday means joy, but most of the week is still devoted to something like sorrowful apathy.
The album is divided rather blatantly into two parts, split down the middle by two tracks low on words but high on mood. “It’s the Weekend” has all of two lines of lyrics: “Today is the day, it’s the weekend / It’s here, Saturday, it’s the weekend”. Those two lines are backed by an electric guitar and a power pop beat so happy and infectious, it’s almost impossible to believe that it’s the very same guy who limps along in the track right after that one, moaning “fürget it, let’s fürget it,” (spelling borrowed from the song title and lyric sheet) over and over and over again.
The tracks before “It’s the Weekend” showcase the sort of confidence and hopefulness you would hope a guy would have after he lost his band. “I may be limping, but I’m coming home” he sings on the opener and title track. “We’ll run to a brand new sun,” he sings on “Brand New Sun”. “Ghost of My Old Dog” might even be the most beautiful thing Lytle’s ever written, an acknowledgement of a past that he’d rather look at fondly than forget altogether—a sentiment that seems to reverse as soon as “Fürget It” shows up. After that, it’s all “I wish I could laugh now / But I’ll never see you again” (“This Song is the Mute Button”) and “I don’t dare imagine anymore (“Flying Through Canyons”). Something broke him, something dashed all of those hopes, and the man in the second half of the album just isn’t the same as the man in the first.
So maybe it’s not a Grandaddy album, despite the fact that it certainly sounds like one. It’s a multifaceted portrait of a man who’s trying to move on—who, maybe in some ways, has moved on. Still, by not moving further away from the sound that defined him, instead choosing to use that sound as a blanket, retreating within it rather than escaping, Lytle shows us that the commuter is still trying to find his way home. Hopefully the answer isn’t retirement; hopefully the man just needs a few more Saturdays.