My life is about to be flushed. For the last 22 years — four and a half of those spent in scenic New Haven — I have floated on top of a pile of refuse that only has become more putrid with each passing year. Finally, the powers that be will finally free me of the confines of their toilet and let me join the ranks of all the other processed waste. As you probably have surmised over the last several years, I am a lot of things, but poignant is not one of them (unless Johnny Cash is involved). So alas, this is my ugly duckling song.
Join me in flushing and forgetting 2004. This year has done nothing but disappoint, especially within the realm of music. There were, however, brief moments of ecstasy — like Nick Cave’s forgotten masterful double album and, more notably, the birth of Wilco’s new album.
“A Ghost is Born” has become, inevitably, the soundtrack of the year. In a time when most of us pretend that everything is OK amid the abominable atrocities that surround us, Wilco taught us how to cope: First, act like everything is peachy, and then freak out until your ears start to bleed. The 11 minutes of ambient noise at the end of the penultimate track may contrast harshly and annoyingly with the taut perfection of the rest of the album, but it does give us ample time to catch our breath.
Besides this near-perfect record, the year offered much hope but ended with much despair. All the hype, along with all of the pent-up aggression, seemed ready to unleash itself upon this country with the coronation of Sen. John Kerry ’66, but President Bush ’68 found a way to obfuscate his blue blood for the bulk of the NASCAR Nation of Rednecks. We weary progressives never harvested the fruits of our labor.
As I’ve said before, politicians and musicians are alike in many ways — not the least of which is their ability to rouse the masses. This fall had equal promise with regards to music, though in the end we ended up with nothing more than the same empty product. Since hip-hop by its very nature relies upon relentless publicity, I shall turn instead to the dead world of rock. Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome U2.
“Uno, dos, tres, catorce!” Was I the only one who laughed at that? Bono Christ! This world has become completely devoid of humor if every music critic has to point out that Bono’s Spanish is bad. Once those rousing chords exploded, I forgot how to count from zero to 14 in English. In nearly every commercial break for the last month and a half, the flawlessly classic riff of “Vertigo” has pulverized our skulls.
Then, the album’s release date had finally come! Finally, we would be emancipated from the oppressive rubbish that has flooded radio for the last, oh, let’s say four years — which, eerily, is exactly the time it took U2 to finish this album. Was this an omen? We don’t have the answers to any of these strange, illogical associations, because we are so blinded by the pomp and circumstance that all we know conclusively is that we want it now, now, now!
However, U2 does not matter. They always have been and will always remain a singles band, the Abba for Generation X. Granted, 1991’s “Achtung Baby” still stands as one of music history’s most brilliantly fearless acts of self-negation, with producer Brian Eno erasing the familiar sound.
Besides the band’s temporary departure, U2 has remained fairly consistent over the years — no matter what any other critics insist — and the new album merely attempts to rewrap the same formula and sell it as a new cure, with none of the heart.
Along with REM, U2 has always vied for prominence among the new crop of bands spawned by the music of the ’80s. I have always preferred REM to U2 and pluck “Murmur” from my shelf regularly over the years (while “War” sits and listens from the sidelines). Likewise, I have played REM’s recent “Around the Sun” with far more vigor than “Atomic Bomb” over the last week.
But none of this matters. I remain sufficiently bored with music these days that I almost can’t wait to move on to greener pastures. If the best criticism is invested with insatiable thirst, I find myself resigned to drown with the flush of the toilet.