Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Drive Time: Ben Kweller - Sha Sha

Drive Time, in which I spend a week with an album I haven't really listened to before that I probably should have listened to before.

It’s weird how things can just slip under your radar. Especially things that you love. Or would have loved properly had you come to them at the right time. There’s a bit of remorse I’ve felt listening to Sha Sha all week in my car. I felt remorse that I didn’t love this album like I should have when I was in high school. This record came out in March 2002. I was sixteen years old, and I was obsessed with Weezer, and this album sounds like the Weezer I loved. The Weezer of Blue Album and Pinkerton. That spirit is here. Huge pop songs done on a modest scale. My bag. I even remember downloading Sha Sha on Napster. I remember really loving “Wasted & Ready” and for some reason, neglected to listen to the rest of the album. Why? There are so many surefire hits I was bound to love it because right now, I’m 26 and I think it’s one of the best high school records I’ve ever heard.

That isn’t meant as a knock, because as you know well, it’s very easy to stay in love with the music you loved in high school. Maybe I was getting too punk rock. This was sophomore year, the year of 9/11, and the year I started listening to lots of Jello Biafra spoken word albums and 80s punk and kind of cocooned and came out someone that was too cool to like anything that wasn’t politically charged. Or something. I don’t know, there was a lost year in the punk rock gestation where I was critical of everything and then about a year later I found the Weakerthans and started branching out into indie rock like a good little soldier. I can only suspect this is the case. The one time in my life where I shunned poppy music (all the while devouring pop punk). I’m sorry, Sha Sha, I really am. You would have made the perfect soundtrack to so many awkward dates and makeout sessions (well, the like less than 10 makeout sessions I partook in during high school)! Alas, here I am, old and not so much nostalgic but really fondly embracing the music I loved as a teenager. Finding those qualties that made me love it in the first place and refusing to write it off as “stuff I liked in high school” which seems like such a common thing to do. It’s not like your taste gets better, it just evolves. I mean, I liked some shitty stuff when I was fourteen and fifteen, but that was all on the path to enlightenment. It’s like, once you know what you like, and that what you like has certain merits you can kind of stop judging it. Or maybe that’s just me holding this up to the alternative, which is Limp Bizkit and Korn and Slipknot and everything looks like solid gold compared to that shit.

So here’s what happened. Here’s how this record fell into my life in a rather serendipitous way. I was assisting on a section reflow at work and had to be there past normal go-home-time until 11 and had to spend that time taking books off of shelves, moving shelves around, getting splinters, hammering pegs into shelf walls, and then putting shelves back up and putting books back on shelves. And this is what the assistant manager put on and all the gripes I had in my head about having to stay there til 11 kind of went away and I just worked like a happy little ant all like “Good lord this album is so great!” Naturally, the ASM remarked that this was the sound of high school. Shit yes. The next day, I saw the CD sitting up at the buy counter with a $1 clearance sticker on it and promptly purchased the thing. And it’s been stuck in my car stereo.

Kweller’s finest attribute is that he might as well be you. Just some kid from some small Texas town, probably writing these songs in his bedroom or whatever. The melodies, though, the melodies are world class. They’re playful yet elegant. Fun without sapping any emotional core. It’s also one of those rare album I heard and immediately knew my wife would like. She’s very picky. Sometimes you have to sneak music to her the way you sneak broccoli into smoothies for people who don’t like vegetables (or that one guy from the Magic Bullet commercial who doesn’t like vegetables and remarks “I CAN’T TASTE THE VEGETABLES!” when he tries the broc laced smoothie). I’ll play an album a few times in the car, around the house, making sure to cue up the tracks I think she’ll like. I’m not trying to say that she doesn’t love music, she is just very, very…well, picky. It’s kind of how we compliment each other. She just likes what she likes whereas I have to critically examine something before I can like some sort of nerd detective before I can be like “this is really great” (or maybe more like a dog walking around in circles before choosing to lie down). I put this on in the car and, as I suspected, she immediately liked it. Point Ian.

Kweller’s balancing of the slow jams with the straight-outta-Pinkerton jams is nice. I totally suspected him to just ramp up the power pop but the tender tunes like “Family Tree,” “Falling” and “Lizzy” are that emotional core I was talking about. Playing off the playful “Wasted & Ready” and “Commerce, TX.” It’s rich and satisfying. The hooks, man oh man the hooks! The aforementioned “Commerce, TX” sounds so easy. Like it could have been tossed off, written in under an hour, and the thing about great songs is that sometimes they’re like that. Sometimes they just come out and there it is and you don’t really have to fuss with it it’s just there. It also makes sense that it was Evan Dando of the Lemonheads who took Kweller under his wing. It’s all coming together, what with Dando being another one of those people who has fucking outstanding hooks just effortlessly flowing out of him. For some reason I find it very comforting that Kweller married the girl “Lizzy” is about. That kind of seals the deal for me. OK, Ben Kweller, I thought you were like, SO UNCOOL when I was in high school but now I realize that you are very cool (maybe played in an uncool way but still cool) and I swear every time “Harriet’s Got a Song” comes on I think “This is maybe the best song on the record and it’s buried second to last, what a bold move!” It’s so wonderful to find an album that makes me feel giddy. Something that appeals to the basest of my musical obsessions and just feels so pure and good and fuck yes. There is hope for this world yet!

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