By Tom Reardon, July 2019 Issue.
Sebadoh – Act Surprised
Several months ago, Sebadoh’s Lou Barlow played a living room show here in Phoenix at a cozy little house near 7th Avenue and Osborn. It was a beautiful night full of great songs and Barlow’s soft-spoken, somewhat shy, and mischievous sense of humor. After his set, Barlow casually mentioned there would be a new Sebadoh album out in May and the small, but devoted, crowd let out a collective gleeful gasp at that prospect.
Fast forward a few months and Act Surprised is here and gosh darn it, at first listen, it’s great. Then, you listen again, and you think, “Well, this is certainly good, but where have I heard this before?” One of the most charming things about Sebadoh’s early work was the low-fi element to their recordings that made you feel as if you were listening to the band play live in your living room. With Act Surprised, the production is top notch, but it was recorded by Justin Pizzoferrato, who has helmed several Dinosaur Jr. albums and to be honest, Act Surprised sounds a little too like a Dinosaur Jr. record. There is still the great interplay between Barlow’s sweet songs that are often yearning for acceptance and bandmate Jason Loewenstein’s heavier and darker songs, for sure, but I kind of miss the old days when the Massachusetts boys would record on a four track in their garage. Essential listening, though, for Sebadoh fans.
Bad Religion – Age of Unreason
Kind of like the Ramones, Bad Religion is great at continually recreating the same song, over and over. I know what you’re thinking, “Blasphemy, Mr. Reardon!” and you’re probably right, at least when it comes to the Ramones. What do I know? Well, I know that I don’t like this new Bad Religion album at all. It sounds tired and very much like the last 10 Bad Religion records that I promptly listened to and forgot about immediately. Not since 1988’s Suffer have I enjoyed a Bad Religion record and I really like 1982’s How Could Hell Be Any Worse, but I feel like the big ol’ balls on that first full-length that the band swung to and fro with punk rock abandon have continued to shrivel to the point where an album like Age of Unreason can come out 37 years later and there aren’t any swimmers left in there able to impregnate a fleeting thought in a youthful mind ready to explode. You’re way better off spending time with a band like The Coathangers or Plague Vendor than listening to this drivel.
Morrissey – California Son
It’s one thing when Weezer does a covers record, but Morrissey? I had to hear this. “Morning Starship,” on Morrissey’s California Son reminds me a bit of Ted Cassidy’s iconic Lurch character from The Addams Family sitting down at the harpsichord to play a song for Morticia and Gomez to dance to rather than the original version by Jobriath, which sounds very dated these days. If you’re into Morrissey, nothing on California Son will surprise you as he goes through this record featuring some of his favorite songs from the ‘60s and ‘70s. All the requisite preaching, maudlin and wistful pleading, and mellifluous yearning for a better world are here, present, and accounted for as he churns through twelve tracks here turning other people’s words into his own pulpit.
One thing that is apparent on California Son is that like a fine wine, Morrissey is apparently mellowing with age and many of these songs will swirl around your brain like a nice cabernet dancing with your tongue as you enjoy its velvety loveliness. “It’s Over,” for example, is a perfect example of this quality of smooth Morrissey shifting nicely into the Roy Orbison penned break up song. It sounds great and like a warm blanket, you can cuddle up with it and bask in its misery before it transitions to the almost farcical version of Laura Nyro’s “Wedding Bell Blues” that features some catty backing vocals by Green Day’s Billie Joe Armstrong. This is a fun record, for the most part, and should be taken as such. Your mom might even like it.