Blue October: History for Sale

Andrew Ellis

Blue October

History for Sale

Label: Universal
US Release Date: 2003-08-05
UK Release Date: 2003-10-11

Blue October are a unique band, not only because of their ethereal brand of modern rock, but because they must be one of few acts to be re-signed by the same major label which dropped them.

After the release of the excellent Consent to Treatment in 2000, Universal ditched the band, leaving the five-piece to work on a follow-up, and prompting lead singer Justin Furstenfeld to write in Blue October's bio on their official website: "The new album [History for Sale] is almost like a form of vengeance to our old label [Universal]. We want to show them that we were never into making music to make radio hits, but rather to reach out to our listeners."

But despite such scathing criticism, Universal resigned the Texas-based band earlier this year after the self-released album had led to the band featuring in a host of label showcases, and after hastily rewriting the band's biography, have now released History for Sale in collaboration with Brando Records. According to the updated bio, Furstenfeld couldn't be happier with the arrangement. "We're excited about working together again," he says. "We hugged, kissed, made amends, and now we're having the best sex ever."

Away from the politics of such odd reunions, History for Sale emphatically shows why Universal were so keen to reinstate Blue October to its roster. Furstenfeld may moan in "Inner Glow", "Call it rock or pop or Bach or fuck / Goddamn where did we go wrong? / Now there's a category for every song", but there's no chance of Blue October's music being pigeonholed quite so easily. It's a weird and wonderfully eclectic mix of influences and contrasting emotions that should appeal to the more discerning music fan but is also capable of wider, mainstream success.

First single "Calling You" is testament to that potential, combining Furstenfeld's typical lyrical intensity combined with a memorable melody and as it's the closest Blue October come to a love song, the contrast between this and the scathing, full-on assault of "Razorblade" is marked. Dealing with the horrific subject of the scandal of child abuse by priests, Furstenfeld can barely conceal his fury as he spits "In a way I failed religion / I spit the wine from mouth to cup / There's no forgiveness for you now / You sick fuck". Almost as seething in its intensity is "Somebody", which may or may not allude to Blue October's separation with the label they have now reunited with, but it's a storming rock song either way.

But Blue October are masters at diversifying their sound, as the presence of a violin in opener "Ugly Side" and the subdued trip-hop of the brilliantly touching "Come in Closer" demonstrate. Elsewhere, acoustic ballad "Amazing" closes the album in typically complex style, with Furstenfeld's dark, revealing lyrics once more captivating the attention, while the upbeat "Clumsy Card House" is wonderfully arranged and the two-minute flute-infused "3 Weeks, She Sleeps" is almost a folk tune with its delicate refrain. But perhaps the highest praise is reserved for "Inner Glow", a Jekyll-and-Hyde song that is part pop-rock, part folk and part metal, and the deeply personal "Chameleon Boy", a song about Furstenfeld's feelings of guilt about not doing enough to help a friend who died of a drug overdose ("Here come excuses / Of why I let you down"). Both, like many others on this record are examples of pure, unadulterated brilliance from the mind of a tortured genius.

Consent to Treatment was a good album which revealed Blue October's originality, insightful lyrics and diverse approach, but History for Sale is breathtakingly powerful, more emotive and more challenging. To put in simpler terms, it's so good, I doubt Universal will be making the same mistake twice.

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

Keep reading... Show less

Pauline Black may be called the Queen of Ska by some, but she insists she's not the only one, as Two-Tone legends the Selecter celebrate another stellar album in a career full of them.

Being commonly hailed as the "Queen" of a genre of music is no mean feat, but for Pauline Black, singer/songwriter of Two-Tone legends the Selecter and universally recognised "Queen of Ska", it is something she seems to take in her stride. "People can call you whatever they like," she tells PopMatters, "so I suppose it's better that they call you something really good!"

Keep reading... Show less

Morrison's prose is so engaging and welcoming that it's easy to miss the irreconcilable ambiguities that are set forth in her prose as ineluctable convictions.

It's a common enough gambit in science fiction. Humans come across a race of aliens that appear to be entirely alike and yet one group of said aliens subordinates the other, visiting violence upon their persons, denigrating them openly and without social or legal consequence, humiliating them at every turn. The humans inquire why certain of the aliens are subjected to such degradation when there are no discernible differences among the entire race of aliens, at least from the human point of view. The aliens then explain that the subordinated group all share some minor trait (say the left nostril is oh-so-slightly larger than the right while the "superior" group all have slightly enlarged right nostrils)—something thatm from the human vantage pointm is utterly ridiculous. This minor difference not only explains but, for the alien understanding, justifies the inequitable treatment, even the enslavement of the subordinate group. And there you have the quandary of Otherness in a nutshell.

Keep reading... Show less

A 1996 classic, Shawn Colvin's album of mature pop is also one of best break-up albums, comparable lyrically and musically to Joni Mitchell's Hejira and Bob Dylan's Blood on the Tracks.

When pop-folksinger Shawn Colvin released A Few Small Repairs in 1996, the music world was ripe for an album of sharp, catchy songs by a female singer-songwriter. Lilith Fair, the tour for women in the music, would gross $16 million in 1997. Colvin would be a main stage artist in all three years of the tour, playing alongside Liz Phair, Suzanne Vega, Sheryl Crow, Sarah McLachlan, Meshell Ndegeocello, Joan Osborne, Lisa Loeb, Erykah Badu, and many others. Strong female artists were not only making great music (when were they not?) but also having bold success. Alanis Morissette's Jagged Little Pill preceded Colvin's fourth recording by just 16 months.

Keep reading... Show less

Frank Miller locates our tragedy and warps it into his own brutal beauty.

In terms of continuity, the so-called promotion of this entry as Miller's “third" in the series is deceptively cryptic. Miller's mid-'80s limited series The Dark Knight Returns (or DKR) is a “Top 5 All-Time" graphic novel, if not easily “Top 3". His intertextual and metatextual themes resonated then as they do now, a reason this source material was “go to" for Christopher Nolan when he resurrected the franchise for Warner Bros. in the mid-00s. The sheer iconicity of DKR posits a seminal work in the artist's canon, which shares company with the likes of Sin City, 300, and an influential run on Daredevil, to name a few.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.