First they were Mrs. God. Then they became Teen Idol Maker. In the end, they just became Lazy. Sure they've had their share of hard luck stories, trying hard to find that elusive major label record deal. And they've been through a proliferation of bass players -- a good half dozen including Eels' (and now Abandoned Pools') own Tommy Walker (this was his first band). But now, at long last, they've released a CD. And I am mighty glad they did.
Lazy are the incredibly talented Joel Bell (vocals, guitar keyboards) and Pete Pagonis (drums and vocals). Pierre Gallard played guitar on most tracks, and bass duties were divided among several. Apparently, not everyone who was Lazy remained that way.
Essentially has been years in the making, and it certainly shows. You get ten songs that sparkle -- fully realized compositions with absolutely no filler whatsoever. The sound is something akin to an American Crowded House/Neil Finn or Squeeze/Glenn Tilbrook, but let me set you straight. While there are many who sound similar to Finn/Tilbrook, rarely do you find the same sort of quality material that distinguished groups like Crowded House and Squeeze. Here is where Lazy set themselves apart from the others -- each song is melodic, interestingly well crafted and intelligent.
Like most good pop, the songs will appeal at first listen. They are accessible, but for me, the reasons they stand out are several-fold: 1) excellent musicianship, well executed (whomever the bass player) and well produced, including great lead vocals and well-arranged harmonies, leads and instrumentation; 2) a real sense of structure and craft -- I'm a sucker for great middle bridges and pop craftsmanship -- these songs display complex set-ups and time signatures, no simple three-chord structure songs here; 3) a wonderful sense of language and expression -- I often forget how good lyrics can be, and these have a sense of rhyme and meter and the intelligent turn of phrase that's lacking in most modern pop music, as well as interesting choices for topic matter. I can go on, but I'd rather discuss the music itself.
The CD opens with "Sleeping In", a soft ode to the title act and perhaps a natural adjunct of being lazy too. The lyrics examine the repercussions ("She said, 'Well everyone must work / And meet their obligations / No one ever gets what he deserves / Life is complications'".)
The poignantly infectious "Weeds" is a jazzy stutter-step of a self-deprecating thank you for everything: "'Cause in the brutal light of summer / On the soft forgiving ground / I'm just happy to be human / Oh everybody knows it's your garden / Everybody knows that now / we're the weeds." The departed Tommy Walter delivers some nice bass work here.
It's hard to pick among these choices, but "Something New" is one of my favorites. This tale of disappointment and love lost becomes something more in the deft hands of lyrics that provoke thought: "All we lose gathers very quietly and waits for the news that we don't need it / Then the steady march of memory empties out the past / I will wait until you find / Nothing good was built to last / C'mon it's me you're talking to / That's something new for you". This track features wonderful guitar work from Pierre Gaillard.
"Perfect" is a ballad of bitter censure, aptly sung with great expression and backed with guitar that continues the attack when the words leave off. "Sun Man" is a tribute to that homeless, legless man on the corner, his brains fried, a scary contemplation of "what happens when all desire is done".
Starting off like some Nilsson song, the gentle waltz of "Telephone Waltz" develops into something very Neil Finn-like. The sweet melody belies the distance of the relationship gone awry and how it is dealt with: " The telephone is where we keep / We fight to call, we fight to speak / It's not the time of your life when you're timing it, day by day / Somewhere inside is this hurt you've been hiding along the way / She says goodbye / He says so long / She starts to cry / He wrote this song".
Lazy seem to have a clever way of dealing with any number of issues. They take on infidelity with "Tell Me a Lie," a song allegedly considered for what became the film That Thing You Do. Here's the dramatic action of a later verse: "On your table sits a diary, as you gently sleep / I pick it up, testing my defenses / Very quietly turning pages, I feel like a creep / 'cause if I see his name it makes no difference / It's not worth the sky and earth to hear my love's reply / Tell me a lie".
Even more intriguing is loss as portrayed through a spontaneous tag sale in the bittersweet "Gone". Driven to distraction, his former treasure on earth is now for sale, each item only a dollar: "Just little somethings from each place I've been / I been good at keeping it small / Everybody's charming, but then, god that wears thin / And they're no help at all". All he has believed in is gone, and yet there's hope and satisfaction in this act.
The modern hypocrite's way of valuing appearance over substance is taken on in "Real Thing". Lazy let us know that the shallow shall fall and that only one thing matters: "He's the guy you'd want to marry / Cuts the finest figure in a small town / Nothing much extraordinary / Did his tour and came to put his roots down / Everything you saw he noted / Fell apart when it was quoted / He stayed silent, shaking in the mud / The real thing, the real thing, the real thing is love".
The CD closes with the somber "Revolution", a musical condemnation of an America inundated by media hype and uniformity: "And God, we love our freaks and every small disaster / We're more than slightly but not overdone / And so the revolution is too big to be televised, even organized / But I refuse to join J. Crew / I trust no one to see me though / It smells like red, it stinks like blue / It's revolution".
Encouraged by the fact that pop bands like Rooney, Weezer, and Fountains of Wayne have made inroads with a larger audience, Bell and Pagonis decided finally to let this material see the light of day. Thank goodness they have -- and they hope to make back the expense of doing so. I hope they do and then some, because apparently Lazy have a second CD ready to go -- but only if this one does well.
My biggest criticism is that lyrics are not provided (only the first song's lyrics are printed in the CD booklet). However, if you are a fan of Crowded House, Neil Finn, Squeeze, or Glenn Tilbrook, I highly recommend you check out Essentially. If you are a fan of well-crafted pop with emotive vocals that engages both heart and mind, you can't go wrong with Lazy.