Wednesday, December 2, 2009

The Negro Problem - Joys and Concerns (1999)

Everyone always says that In the Aeroplane Over the Sea is the most underrated album of the nineties, but let's face it. To quote a friend of mine, "Nothing gets indie kids wetter than Neutral Milk Hotel." People know that band and that album and love it, as well they should, but this record is REALLY the most underrated/overlooked one of the nineties. If you mention Neutral Milk Hotel to your neighborhood hipster, they'll start salivating, but mention this band, and they'll look at you funny and think you're a racist for saying the name aloud. On Joys and Concerns, the 2nd release under the Negro Problem moniker, songwriter Stew has really outdone himself (no small feat, mind you). These twelve tracks are split into two halves, the former being labeled "Joys" and the latter "Concerns." The record opens with "Repulsion (Show Up Late for Work on Monday)" and "Sea of Heat," both of which keep with the "Joys" theme of the first half and are delightfully catchy (the latter's horn section takes the listener back to the '70s for a brief moment) but are really just the prologue to the album's first of two bookend tracks, "Comikbuchland." "Mahnsanto" is, melody-wise, one of the most uplifting tracks, starting immediately from the opening lyrics. Commercially, the next song, "Bleed" is the most well known song (having been featured on both Scrubs and Weeds), containing the ever so vaguely familiar chorus, "Come down now, little one. Leave your place in the sun." The next song, "Peter Jennings," marks the beginning of the "Concerns" half of the album by stating, "So L.A.P.D., why'd you chase me? Didn't I have my blinker on? Didn't I say I love the law?" The apex of this half though, comes in the song "Ken," told from the view of the toy, who sings, "My name's Ken, and I like men. But the people at Mattel, the home that I call hell, are somewhat bothered by my queer proclivities. It's safe to say that they are really pissed at me. They always stick me with Barbie, but I want them to know I pray for G.I. Joe, but any able-bodied man-doll will surely do. Just someone to love since I am not set up to screw." "The Rain in Leimert Park Last Tuesday" is the second of the two bookend tracks, a reprise (of sorts) of "Comikbuchland." The closing track, "Come Down Now" is a perfect end to a perfect album, a vague echo of "Bleed," in which Stew sings, "Come down now, remove your bandage so I can see your damage..." Adam Duritz actually turned me on to these guys and I honestly can't thank him enough. With this release, Stew has cemented his status as one of the best lyricists/songwriters of this generation, and no, I'm not exaggerating.

For fans of: Stew, Counting Crows, The Decemberists


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