The 12 tracks on Darrin Bradbury’s latest album Artvertisement reveal what happens when the imagination hits the fan and splatters its contents far and wide. The songs start with simple observations and then show how nothing is as uncomplicated as it seems. The act of putting ideas into language itself is problematic as words have more than one meaning. Besides, life is funny. Not ha-ha funny. Nothing matters funny. Maybe most people lead lives of quiet desperation, but Bradbury’s not going to keep quiet about it.
If all this sounds pretty weird, it is. As John Prine used to say, “It’s a big old goody world”, and Bradbury may be the closest thing we have to Prine these days. He engages in the same type of wordplay and acknowledges the ludicrousness of contemporary life with the same wry smile. The most significant difference is that Prine looked into the past for consolation while Bradbury more commonly tips his hat to the future and goes, “what?” Or, as Bradbury notes, the world is busted. “We are strangers here / In stranger times…the whole thing is a joke / And the joke’s on you”. Life is absurd. The beautiful days of history are swallowed by time, and the present remains permanently unfinished. It’s nothing you don’t already realize but maybe prefer not to think about.
Bradbury offers no life lessons. He doesn’t know what to do any more than the rest of us; he points his fingers at the uncertainties and conventional explanations. He reads the handwriting on the wall while the rest of us see invisible ink. His songs are short. All but one of the 12 are less than three minutes and three cuts are less than two minutes long. But there’s a lot of bang for the buck. One doesn’t have to be Shakespeare to point out eloquently that the emperor has no clothes.
So expect surprises and don’t be surprised. Everything that happens is inevitable. Musicians outlive their dreams of glory. Art becomes a way to commoditize oneself as a product. Flying cars are a bad idea. Roads will take you anywhere. What some people call possums are aliens from space. Fast food stays fast food no matter how it’s presented. Life can be a video game if one knows the cheat codes. Birds and bees fight and die. Don’t think too much. And so it goes.
It’s hard to explain, but the details of the quotidian life we live matters by not mattering. Bradbury mixes the confessional with the fantastic so that one can’t always tell the difference between the two. “Is it a hotel, or is it a hospice,” Bradbury asks about the place we find ourselves, and who cares? We all die sometime, somehow. It used to be paradise would be a jug of wine, a loaf of bread, and one’s lover. Now it’s pizza, drugs, and a lazy Sunday in bed with one’s paramour. If that’s all there is, welcome to heaven here on Earth. Put on one’s “snakeskin boots and a tinfoil hat” and dance the boogie.