Music

Emitt Rhodes: self-titled

Robert Hickey

Emitt Rhodes

Emitt Rhodes

Label: One Way
US Release Date: 1969-12-31
Amazon
iTunes

I owe this to Wes Anderson. After the final credits rolled on the director's The Royal Tenenbaums, I rushed from the theatre to the record store across the street and picked up the soundtrack. Like the OST to Anderson's Rushmore, it's a remarkable record, perfectly evoking the film's eccentric melancholy. But even though the album was rich with great songs by artists like Bob Dylan, Nico, and the Velvet Underground, there was one track on the album that I had to hear again.

It was "Lullabye", a sad, gentle wisp of a song, sounding for all the world like a McCartney track that had somehow been left off the White Album. I'm ashamed to say that I had never heard of the performer, Emitt Rhodes, even though I have made it my mission to own anything vaguely considered Beatlesque. (This misguided quest has led me to make some fabulously dubious purchases over the years, the worst being Enuff Z'Nuff's first release . . . but I digress.) I set out to educate myself about Emitt Rhodes immediately.

Rhodes recorded his self-titled debut solo album in 1970 after disbanding his group, the Merry-Go-Round. A complete DIY project, Rhodes played all the instruments himself, carefully laying everything down on a four-track recorder. Yet while the album's analogue hiss and less-than perfect sound quality reveal its humble roots, Emitt Rhodes is nothing like the half-baked low-fi works of fellow Beatlephiles, Guided by Voices. Richly detailed and meticulously crafted, Rhodes's first record offers pure pop heaven.

The opening track, "With My Face on the Floor", firmly establishes Rhodes's MO: jaunty music hall piano, floppy drumming liberally spiked with tambourine, crackling, simple guitar, and highly melodic bass lines. Rhodes complements his pure tenor with tightly harmonized, multitracked backing vocals. All are delivered with an infectious energy that invariably leads to some serious toe tapping. (Listeners less repressed than I might have a more exuberant reaction.) Rhodes doesn't burden his confections with excess verbiage. His lyrics tend to be on the repetitive side, but this isn't a drawback. The plain words become another hook in Rhodes's arsenal. By the time you've listened to the record twice, you'll be singing along. And, as with the best pop lyrics, the songs deal more with longing and loss than love, tempering the sweetness with sadness.

There are a few exceptions that veer into banality; "Fresh as a Daisy" sounds like it should be a feminine hygiene jingle, while the attempts at motivational material in the well-intentioned "Live Till You Die" ("You must "live 'till you die / You must fight to survive") were perhaps best left unsaid. Pity the fool who turns to pop songs for wisdom, anyhow. What Emitt Rhodes offers is more valuable: a record for people who have played out the McCartney tracks on their copies of Rubber Soul and the White Album. Occasionally, Rhodes pulls from other Beatles sources -- the guitar in "You Take the Dark Out of the Night" is straight out of "Octopus's Garden" and it's honestly terrifying how much "You Should be Ashamed" sounds like a Let It Be outtake, right down to its lazy drum fills and soaring backup vocals that I swear are sung by George Harrison. The spirit of Lennon even makes an appearance on the final track, "You Must Have", in Rhodes's gently weary delivery and melancholy lullaby melody.

A true gem, Emitt Rhodes's self-titled album is all the more precious because there's not much else by Rhodes that's available. Other solo albums were released, but record company pressures meant that the careful craftsman never got to lavish as much attention on another single recording. Eventually, Rhodes fell silent and tumbled into obscurity. The songs on this record, however, still chime as vividly and brightly as they did when they were set to tape in that Hawthorne, California garage.


Music

Books

Film

Recent
Film

The Dance of Male Forms in Denis' 'Beau travail'

Claire Denis' masterwork of cinematic poetry, Beau travail, is a cinematic ballet that tracks through tone and style the sublimation of violent masculine complexes into the silent convulsions of male angst.

Music

The Cradle's 'Laughing in My Sleep' Is an Off-kilter Reflection of Musical Curiosity

The Cradle's Paco Cathcart has curated a thoughtfully multifarious album. Laughing in My Sleep is an impressive collection of 21 tracks, each unapologetic in their rejection of expectations.

Music

Tobin Sprout Goes Americana on 'Empty Horses'

During the heyday of Guided By Voices, Tobin Sprout wasn't afraid to be absurd amongst all that fuzz. Sprout's new album, Empty Horses, is not the Tobin Sprout we know.

Film

'All In: The Fight for Democracy' Spotlights America's Current Voting Restrictions as Jim Crow 2.0

Featuring an ebullient and combative Stacey Abrams, All In: The Fight for Democracy shows just how determined anti-democratic forces are to ensure that certain groups don't get access to the voting booth.

Music

'Transgender Street Legend Vol. 2' Finds Left at London "At My Peak and Still Rising"

"[Pandemic lockdown] has been a detriment to many people's mental health," notes Nat Puff (aka Left at London) around her incendiary, politically-charged new album, "but goddamn it if I haven't been making some bops here and there!"

Music

Daniel Romano's 'How Ill Thy World Is Ordered' Is His Ninth LP of 2020 and It's Glorious

No, this is isn't a typo. Daniel Romano's How Ill Thy World Is Ordered is his ninth full-length release of 2020, and it's a genre-busting thrill ride.

Music

The Masonic Travelers Offer Stirring Rendition of "Rock My Soul" (premiere)

The Last Shall Be First: the JCR Records Story, Volume 1 captures the sacred soul of Memphis in the 1970s and features a wide range of largely forgotten artists waiting to be rediscovered. Hear the Masonic Travelers "Rock My Soul".

Music

GLVES Creates Mesmerizing Dark Folktronica on "Heal Me"

Australian First Nations singer-songwriter GLVES creates dense, deep, and darkish electropop that mesmerizes with its blend of electronics and native sounds on "Heal Me".

Music

Otis Junior and Dr. Dundiff Tells Us "When It's Sweet" It's So Sweet

Neo-soul singer Otis Junior teams with fellow Kentuckian Dr. Dundiff and his hip-hop beats for the silky, groovy "When It's Sweet".

Music

Lars and the Magic Mountain's "Invincible" Is a Shoegazey, Dreamy Delight (premiere)

Dutch space pop/psychedelic band Lars and the Magic Mountain share the dreamy and gorgeous "Invincible".

Film

What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .

Music

Alexander Wren's "The Earth Is Flat" Wryly Looks at Lost Love (premiere + interview)

Singer-songwriter Alexander Wren's "The Earth Is Flat" is a less a flat-earther's anthem and more a wry examination of heartache.

Music

Big Little Lions' "Distant Air" Is a Powerful Folk-Anthem (premiere)

Folk-pop's Big Little Lions create a powerful anthem with "Distant Air", a song full of sophisticated pop hooks, smart dynamics, and killer choruses.

Music

The Flat Five Invite You to "Look at the Birdy" (premiere)

Chicago's the Flat Five deliver an exciting new single that exemplifies what some have called "twisted sunshine vocal pop".

Music

Brian Bromberg Pays Tribute to Hendrix With "Jimi" (premiere + interview)

Bass giant Brian Bromberg revisits his 2012 tribute to Jimi Hendrix 50 years after his passing, and reflects on the impact Hendrix's music has had on generations.

Jedd Beaudoin
Music

Shirley Collins' ​'Heart's Ease'​ Affirms Her Musical Prowess

Shirley Collins' Heart's Ease makes it apparent these songs do not belong to her as they are ownerless. Collins is the conveyor of their power while ensuring the music maintains cultural importance.

Books

Ignorance, Fear, and Democracy in America

Anti-intellectualism in America is, sadly, older than the nation itself. A new collection of Richard Hofstadter's work from Library of America traces the history of ideas and cultural currents in American society and politics.

By the Book

Democratizing Our Data: A Manifesto (excerpt)

Just as big tech leads world in data for profit, the US government can produce data for the public good, sans the bureaucracy. This excerpt of Julia Lane's Democratizing Our Data: A Manifesto will whet your appetite for disruptive change in data management, which is critical for democracy's survival.

Julia Lane

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.