Alt-country is a rich genre, filled with enough talent and sterling songwriters to prop up two or three other genres, but it takes itself pretty seriously. It’s a fertile plain where seldom is heard an ironic word, and it’s not taken too kindly if you suggest the whole roots rock phenomenon isjust a touch contrived. I don’t doubt that some kids actually grew up listening to Buck Owens, Tom T. Hall, and Waylon Jennings, but it’s OK to admit that you might have come to the barndance a little late, and that twang wasn’t something you took a shine to when you were knee high to a grasshopper, sitting on your pappy’s knee.
What does this have to do with Clem Snide? Well, the band seems to attract flak for being too intellectual, too ironic, just a little too self-aware. It’s certainly fitting that “Moment in the Sun” is the new theme song for NBC’s Ed, a show which might not be terribly intellectual, but which is certainly ironic and a touch too self-aware. Probably hurting the band’s cause even more are lines like “I think that hunger, war, and death are bringing everybody down” or song titles like “Joan Jett of Arc”. That kind of thing is an Eef Barzelay trademark, and when the Clem Snide frontman follows it with less than sincere sounding “la-la-la”s, you vaguely suspect that they’re making fun of you for paying so much attention to one of their songs. It’s not unlike listening to the Violent Femmes at times.
Clem Snide, though, usually manages to rein the intellect in and concentrate on the emotion of their songs. Despite Barzelay’s seemingly tongue-in-cheek worldview, or even his wordplay that borders on being too clever for its own good, he’s digging around in some deep personal issues. Moment in the Sun is a good showcase for that, perhaps even better than the band’s acclaimed Ghost of Fashion. You get two versions of “Moment in the Sun”, the radio version and the album version. In between, though, is the meat of the disc: four starkly acoustic songs that strip Barzelay’s method down to its core.
“I Believe Your Lies” begins with Barzelay singing over hushed organ tones before breaking into a brisk acoustic guitar and drum pattern. When he repeats the line “I believe your lies”, it sounds like a defeated attempt at convincing himself yet again — an attempt that fails. “Now the Moment’s Gone” is arguably more lively, especially when he accuses, “This moment’s wasted on you / Now the moment’s gone”. “Do You Love Me?” begins with a circular, moody guitar pattern as he ponders, “Do you love me / As I love you / Or do you hate me baby . . . As I hate you? / ‘Cause I don’t want it in-between”. The band revisits “Your Favorite Music” with the Master Key Mix, full of tasteful horns and the sounds of children laughing. Despite the song’s full band arrangement, it still fits in very nicely.
Moment in the Sun works well on two fronts. Fans of the the band will want to pick it up for the three new songs (which are well worth tracking down), while newcomers who just want the “Ed song” can get it without totally submerging themselves in an entire Clem Snide album. Maybe some of those newcomers will decide to check out more of Barzelay’s skewed-but-sincere tales of love. Hey, weirder things have happened (like this band snagging the theme song spot for a network show), and there are definitely rewards to be found on Clem Snide’s albums for anyone willing to take a chance.