Before we get to the review part, I’ve been really into Spotify lately. If you don’t have an account, go sign up for a free one at their site. You can listen to so much music for free, it’s simply amazing. And, you can share playlists with others – so each week I’m going to put together a playlist of things I’ve been listening to in the past week and if you have an account, all you have to do is click on the link below and it will take you right to that playlist to listen to the tracks. Cool, huh?
Anyway…when I wasn’t playing around with Spotify, I was listening to the new Blue October record which has fucked me up. Actually, Justin Furstenfeld has fucked me up. This whole courtroom’s out of order! (Wait, that doesn’t work here? It felt right, but it might make more sense later).
August 16th marks the release of the 6th album from Blue October, Any Man in America (badass’ness: 9/11). I’ve never been a huge fan of the group but I’ve always respected them a bit. They dabble in so many genres that it’s always been tough for me to listen to one of their records. None are very consistent due to this genre hopping but at the same time I give them props for continually trying to not sound like every other alt-rock band out there. I’ve always thought of them as the “AAAA” band. You know those guys in baseball that hit like .350 with 30 HRs in the minors and then come up to the majors and hit .087 (I’m looking at you Dallas McPherson) – they are known as “Quad-A” players, too good for the small time, not good enough for prime time. Blue October has had one hit, 2006’s “Hate Me,” and a bunch of other singles that got airplay here and there and I’ve just always thought they could be bigger if every single didn’t sound completely different from the last one. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t really. But if consistency was what I was looking for then that’s not an issue with Any Man in America. This album is actually remarkably consistent. It’s a concept record which should have a parenthetical title of (Can Get Screwed By the Legal System) as the entire record is about how men (Furstenfeld in particular) face a losing battle in the courts when getting divorced and fighting for custody of their children. The lyrics are written specifically about his divorce and the fight for his daughter.
Here’s the thing and why I say he fucked me up. The album is his personal account of this time in his life. But there aren’t just little sly references here and there about it. It’s like you’re sitting in the courtroom during the trial or interrupting a one-on-one conversation he’s having with his ex-wife. It’s that personal. In the title track, he sings about Eminem and how he opened up the doors to sing about family but there’s a huge difference between Eminem and Blue October. With Eminem, when he sings about putting his wife in the trunk of his car, no matter how angry he sounds on record, you still sort of shrug it off as entertainment. On Any Man in America, this stuff feels real. You don’t get a sense that Furstenfeld is putting on a character or making a joke. Right from the start you get that this whole ordeal has really messed him up and he needed an outlet to talk about.
Upon first listen, I mentioned to a few people that it was making me slightly uncomfortable. Now on the 5th listen, I’m terribly torn up about this disc. I’ve tried for three days to write this but there were 10,000 things going through my head every time I heard the disc that I didn’t really know where to begin.
Let me give you some examples of what I’m talking about – like “Money Tree”
“With two houses, both cars / I paid off your fucking credit card debt / did you already forget / huh, you threaten, threaten, threaten, threaten, threaten, huh / just fucking leave, find a man who’ll put up with…”
or “For the Love”
“I missed the tour when you told me not to come home again / an ex-boyfriend was talking my place at the first Lamaze (you gotta be kiddin’ – no!)”
“The Flight: Lincoln to Minneapolis” begins with a conversation between him and his wife, with her telling him how much he’s failed at being a husband and a father. The song presumably is about the trip he was about to take to go home after he found out his wife was screwing another man.
“Please help me understand / why you can’t talk man to man / but you can stand with your dick in your hand / and you’re acting like a pussy.”
And finally, “Any Man In America”
“My first and only Billboard hit was going to pay for my two-year-olds college / I should have hid that shit / so she couldn’t spend that shit” and “Yeah fuck that judge / fuck the county / fuck your family too / yeah, fuck everybody who took my baby girl, Blue.”
I’ve always said that I’m not the guy who hangs on every word to determine if I like a record or not, but it’s hard not to be affected in one way or another by lyrics like the above and well, really 80% of the rest of the record.
The most interesting part for me is that the music behind the lyrics is actually fantastic. Most songs are mid-tempo but take a somber and sometimes angry tone based on the lyrics, but a song like the title track is an insanely catchy pop tune. And the label has done the right thing by releasing “The Chills” and “The Feel Again” as the first two singles. While both follow the same personal mode, neither are as directly biting and frank as the examples I gave. For me, musically this is the best Blue October record by far but the success of the record is going to come down to how well “The Feel Again” does as a single as emotions are already pouring out over this pretty heartbreaking tune.
It’s hard to know how fans are going to react to this once they hear the full thing. I wasn’t a fan and ended up being uncomfortable but still enjoying the record. You know single dads are going to relate to this album but I’m curious to see how women take it. Will it end up alienating them or will they sympathize with his plight? My wife knows the songs on the radio but also wouldn’t consider herself a fan and was completely put off by it. And what will his daughter think when she listens to the record as a teenager as Dad tells the whole world about his relationship with Mom via a CD? I guess Eminem has that issue as well though.
So you might ask, if I’m so uncomfortable with the record why did I give it a 9 out of 11 on the badass meter? Any Man in America is designed to evoke a reaction and generate emotions out of everyone that listens to it. And there are so many emotions going through my head right now that I don’t even have the desire to write up another disc this week. Mission accomplished.