EP Me

Back in the ’70s, ’80s and maybe into the early ’90s, the EP (“extended play”) record was a key component of any good collection. These were collections of songs that were just a bit too long to be singles (even 12-inch ones), but just a bit too short to be LP (“long play”) albums, and the 10-inch vinyl record was a particularly iconic representation of the format.

Some of my favorite songs and records from that era were originally issued as EPs, including, but obviously not limited to:

Brown Reason To Live and Cream Corn From The Socket of Davis by Butthole Surfers

Autumn Equinox: Amethyst Deceivers, Winter Solstice: North, Spring Equinox: Moon’s Milk or Under an Unquiet Skull and Summer Solstice: Bee Stings by COIL

Slates by The Fall

Poguetry in Motion by The Pogues

Chronic Town by R.E.M.

The $5.98 EP: Garage Days Re-Revisited by Metallica

Four Tracks From Steely Dan by Steely Dan (the only place you could get the rare and weirdly anomalous early “Dallas” b/w “Sail The Waterway” single)

An Ideal for Living by Joy Division

The Power of Lard by Lard

The Witch Trials by The Witch Trials

Nervous Breakdown and Jealous Again by Black Flag

Paranoid Time and Buzz or Howl Under Influence of Heat by The Minutemen

Fugazi and Margin Walker by Fugazi

Duck Stab! and Babyfingers by The Residents

Signals, Calls and Marches by Mission of Burma

Datapanik In The Year Zero by Pere Ubu

Beware by The Misfits

1981-1982 by New Order

Gravest Hits and Smell of Female by The Cramps

The idiom seemed to mostly croak around the time when CDs became the dominant format, and routine, regular bloat ensued. Artists seemed more inclined to issue 70-80 minutes worth of music at a pop from that point forward, just because the format easily allowed for it. Of course, albums didn’t get 50% better for having 50% more music on them, and the opposite was actually quite often the case.

I’m noticing a trend in recent years to reverse this unfortunate predilection for musical bloatiness, and two of my favorite new records in 2019 are small collections that clearly would have been issued as EPs back in the day. The first of these is Wisdom Teeth by Jealous of the Birds, a concise and perfect five-song gem that actually follows on this heels of another EP, 2018’s tremendous The Moths of What I Want Will Eat Me In My Sleep. My favorite song on the album is “Marrow,” which also features a stellar video:

Jealous of the Birds’ guiding light, Naomi Hamilton, is a relative newcomer to my record collection, but my other favorite 2019 EP (so far) comes from a singer-songwriter who has been a deep personal favorite of mine since the mid-’80s: Andy Prieboy. His latest record, Every Night Of My Life, also features five songs, everyone of them a winner, played by a core trio of Prieboy, the late Tony Kinman (The Dils, Rank and File, etc.) and David Kendrick (Devo). Song styles vary widely, but Prieboy’s extremely astute and engaging lyrics, amazing arrangements and his always lovely baritone voice give them great continuity, and they are all fine additions to his canon. The sample song provide below features Kinman and Prieboy in a vocal duet, and it’s a delight:

I would certainly love it if artists followed these fine recent examples, issuing short, sharp collections every so often, regularly, rather than working for years to drop an 80-minute marathon on my listening machines. There’s no reason for them not to, in this our streaming season (though I still resist that development), and there’s so much quality control and discipline to be gained in purposefully issuing music in tiny packages.

Get on it, musos. Less is more!

COIL’s four equinox/solstice EPs were as beautiful to look at as they were to hear.

The “Favorite Band” Question (Revisited)

Eight some years ago, I wrote a blog post called “The ‘Favorite Band’ Question,” wherein I attempted to answer the query that, as a known hardcore music nerd, I am probably asked more often than any other, online and in the real world: “So, who’s your favorite band?”

I noted then, and I note now, that I listen to so much music, and I am so musically omnivorous, that it’s really hard for me to answer that question, simply because there are so many apples to oranges, or meatloaf to polonium, or bicycle to aardvark comparisons between the different types of things I spin. To wit: per my iTunes account, here are the past ten songs that have spun via the “random shuffle” setting on my collection as I’ve sat at my computer, getting ready to write this post:

  • “Black Skin Blue Eyed Boys” by The Specials (Caribbean funk/ska, 2019)
  • “Funky #7” by Hot Tuna (Power trio stoner rock, 1975)
  • “Whisper” by Schnell Fenster (Weird Australian pop, 1988)
  • “Dead Behind The Eyes” by Soulfly (Brazilian-flavored metal, 2018)
  • “Delius” by Kate Bush (Arty pop, 1980)
  • “Nothing Will Be The Same” by Renaldo and Michael Alan Alien (Experimental tape torture, 2012)
  • “The Wrong Thing” by Xiu Xiu (Tortured art rock, 2019)
  • “Mr. Wiggles” by Parliament (Aquatic funk, 1978)
  • “Gone, Gone, Gone” by Bad Company (Arena rock, 1979)
  • “The Creator Has A Master Plan” by Leon Thomas (Vocal jazz, 1969)

I loved everyone of those songs as they spun, and I love everyone of those artists. But can I rank or compare them in any meaningful fashion? No, not really. They’re just too different. So because I don’t do anything simply, when I first started thinking about this question back in 2011, I decided that I had to define what constituted a “favorite band” for a generic listener before I answered the big question myself. Here’s the list of criteria I developed:

  • The listener actively looks forward to listening to the favorite band’s music more than any other music, and does so weekly, if not daily;
  • The listener seeks to have a complete collection of the favorite band’s work, and is willing to spend a little bit more money than usual to acquire it, with special attention paid to albums or singles that less-enthusiastic fans might never find or hear;
  • The listener never grows tired of the favorite band and its works, and anytime they come on the stereo or radio, no matter what the song, it is greeted with volume raising and singing along;
  • The listener seeks to learn more about the favorite band, and will often buy books or magazines or watch television or internet shows related to its members and their music;
  • The listener makes an effort to see the favorite band in a live setting as often as practically possible.

In my first stab at this article, I went back through the ages of my life and listed the bands that I am pretty certain met all of those criteria more than any others in different years. That list looked like this:

  • Simon and Garfunkel (Initial musical sentience-1971)
  • Steppenwolf (1971-1973)
  • Wings (1973-1976)
  • Steely Dan (1976-1978)
  • Jethro Tull (1978-1982)
  • XTC (1982-1984)
  • Butthole Surfers (1984-1994)
  • Hawkwind (1994-1998)
  • The Residents (1998-2003)
  • The Fall (2003-2008)
  • Napalm Death (2008-present)

I note that those years in no way limit the time spans in which I actually listened to all of those groups. Take The Fall, for instance: I started playing them in 1983 or so, and I was gutted when their leader, Mark E. Smith, passed away last year. I still listen to them regularly, and I cited some albums from outside the 2003-2008 time span as all-time favorites in various lists like this one or this one. But for a variety of reasons, internal and external, I was really, really, really into The Fall in that six year span in the early Naughts, and they really spent an extravagant percentage of time on my stereo, and on my mind. I didn’t like them any less come 2009, but I did find myself spending a lot more mental time, energy, and effort listening to and seeing Napalm Death.

And I continued to do so for many years, although the reason that I revisit this old post today is because I realized recently that a couple of years ago, Napalm were supplanted atop the current pile by another group: King Crimson. (Favorite bands are like economic recessions, apparently; you can’t really decide that they’ve started until you’re well into them). I have been listening to, and loving, the Crim since the ’70s, but they sort of moved onto a different plane for me around 2014, when the “Seven-Headed Beast” incarnation of the band (now with eight heads) hit the road with a show that for the first time in their complicated history featured music from 1969’s debut album, In The Court of the Crimson King, along with cuts from every band era since, and a healthy slab of new tunes.

Marcia and I have seen King Crimson twice in recent years, and we have tickets to see them again in September. I check their website on a near daily basis for news, downloads, archived articles, or whatever else they feel like sharing with me and their other fans. We play their music pretty constantly around the house, and I’ve always got some of their cuts on my commuting and travel iPods. I still spin Napalm Death on a regular basis (though Marcia is not particularly fond of them, even though she was a sport and went to see them live with me once), but somehow it feels like they really hit a peak or a pinnacle of sorts with their 2015 album Apex Predator – Easy Meat, after which long-time guitarist-vocalist Mitch Harris went on sabbatical to deal with family matters. I’ve seen them twice since then with replacement live guitarists, and the shows were fantastic, but I don’t find myself obsessing about them quite as much as once did, with Crimbo oozing into the spaces in my frontal loaf that they used to fill.

One thing hasn’t changed since I tackled this question in 2011: I’d cite King Crimson as my favorite band right now, but if I had to name one all-time favorite, above and beyond all others, for an entire lifetime of listening, I’d still pick Jethro Tull, who have consistently filled my playlists and brightened my heart since 1975 or so, never, ever leaving the current listening pile, never, ever making me say “Ennnnhhhhh . . . not in the mood for this today (or this week, or this year).” Looking at my most played songs playlist of 2019, there are three Tull cuts on the list, and that’s the case most years since I started keep track of such things. Ian Anderson and his colleagues moved me way back when, and he and the music they made move me now, and I expect he’ll continue to move me as long as he’s still alive and kicking, and probably beyond that, unless he unexpectedly outlives me.

So, to summarize: you ask “What’s Your Favorite Band” and I answer “Right now, King Crimson. All-time, Jethro Tull.” Easy peasy. But subject to change. Watch this space.

The Mighty Crim (Eight-Headed Beast Incarnation)

The Albums Of Our Lives

I was reminded recently of an old interview with (great) writer Chuck Klosterman where he deflected a “best album ever” type question by citing a list of his favorite albums from each year of his life. Probably no surprise to those who are regular readers here, but that made me say “Ooooo! I need to do that too!!”

So I did. And it was an interesting process to develop the list. Some thoughts and observations:

  • The key word is “favorite:” I didn’t try to pick “best,” but rather the things that I enjoy the most, right here, right now, really hewing to the true definition of “favorite” in all of its subjective glory. The difference between “favorite” and “best” is significant, since I know that I love some bad things, and I also know that I hate some good things. Such is the essence of taste.
  • I used my Top 200 Albums Ever list as a starting point, but that quickly stopped being useful, primarily because there are some years where literally dozens of my favorite albums were released (e.g. 1977, with David Bowie’s Low and “Heroes,” Eno’s Before And After Science, Wire’s Pink Flag, Pink Floyd’s Animals, Steely Dan’s Aja, the Pistols’ Never Mind The Bollocks, Kraftwerk’s Trans-Europe Express, Meatloaf’s Bat Out Of Hell, and Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours, just to cite the top of the pile), and other years when I had to deep dive into my collection to find a single album that I considered worthy of being on this list. As much as I always espouse my non-nostalgic “the best music ever made is the music being made right now” rubric, in truth, objective music quality and import over time is a lumpy graph, and that really shows up in a project like this.
  • I had what would seem to be another quality resource available to me in developing this list, with my own “Best Album” reports from print or digital outlets going all the way back to 1992. But interestingly enough, I did not receive much utility from that list either, as there were loads of years where my identified “Best Album” entries from those long gone years either didn’t have long-term legs and do not please me as much now as they did then, or where I still like those old records well enough, but saw them supplanted by things I only heard some year or years after their original releases. Perspective changes over time, for sure.
  • The final list I developed here is a little bit more of a Caucasian Sausage Party than I probably would have preferred. That said, I am glad to see that the trend lines for diversity generally move in the right directions as we careen into 2019.
  • Chuck Klosterman is younger than me, but we do have two albums in two years where we overlap in our lists. See 1990 and 1993. I’m highly skeptical of any self-proclaimed music critic/nerd if he, she (or you) does not agree with me and Chuck on these two. 1990 and 1993 are years where there’s not a lot of room for negotiation. Seriously.
  • If the first year presented in this list seems incongruous to you in terms of what you think you might know about my life’s timeline, let’s just say that I come from a grand old South Carolina family where such piddling insignificances as “When was I born?” or “When was I married?” or “What year is it, really, and how much does it matter, darling?” are highly negotiable in one’s personal narrative. Suffice to say I’m old enough that it’s rude to ask for clarification on such matters, so don’t.

And with all of that as preamble, here’s the list I’ve developed of my favorite albums, right now, from each year of my life:

1965: John Coltrane, A Love Supreme

1966: Simon and Garfunkel, The Sounds of Silence

1967: Yusef Lateef, The Complete Yusef Lateef

1968: Bonzo Dog Band, The Doughnut in Granny’s Greenhouse

1969: King Crimson, In the Court of the Crimson King

1970: Grateful Dead, American Beauty

1971: Emerson, Lake and Palmer, Tarkus

1972: Jethro Tull, Thick As A Brick

1973: Pink Floyd, Dark Side of the Moon

1974: Genesis, The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway

1975: Wings, Venus and Mars

1976: Steely Dan, The Royal Scam

1977: Steely Dan, Aja

1978: Jethro Tull, Heavy Horses

1979: David Bowie, Lodger

1980: Peter Gabriel, Peter Gabriel (III)

1981: Kraftwerk, Computer World

1982: XTC, English Settlement

1983: Swans, Filth

1984: Christian Death, Catastrophe Ballet

1985: Kate Bush, Hounds of Love

1986: R.E.M., Life’s Rich Pageant

1987: Butthole Surfers, Locust Abortion Technician

1988: Butthole Surfers, Hairway to Steven

1989: Einstürzende Neubauten, Haus der Lüge

1990: Public Enemy, Fear Of A Black Planet

1991: Public Enemy, Apocalypse ’91: The Enemy Strikes Black

1992: Television Personalities, Closer To God

1993: Liz Phair, Exile in Guyville

1994: Ween, Chocolate and Cheese

1995: The Bogmen, Life Begins at 40 Million

1996: Sepultura, Roots

1997: Katell Keineg, Jet

1998: Clutch, Elephant Riders

1999: Coil, Musick To Play in the Dark, Vol. 1

2000: Warren Zevon, Life’ll Kill Ya

2001: Hedwig and the Angry Inch (Original Cast Recording)

2002: The Residents, Demons Dance Alone

2003: Ween, Quebec

2004: Xiu Xiu, Fabulous Muscles

2005: Coil, The Ape of Naples

2006: Kamikaze Hearts, Oneida Road

2007: Dälek, Abandoned Language

2008: The Fall, Imperial Wax Solvent

2009: Mos Def, The Ecstatic

2010: Snog, Last Of The Great Romantics

2011: Death Grips, Exmilitary

2012: Napalm Death, Utilitarian

2013: David Bowie, The Next Day

2014: First Aid Kit, Stay Gold

2015: Napalm Death, Apex Predator — Easy Meat

2016: David Bowie, Blackstar

2017: The Fall, New Facts Emerge

2018: First Aid Kit, Ruins

1965 was a very good year to be born, hypothetically and musically speaking . . .

The Trees That Move Us

Note: Here is my “Leading Thoughts” column from the February 2019 edition of TREE Press, the monthly gazette of TREE Fund. You can read the latest and back editions, and subscribe to future installments, by clicking here.

Last summer, I wrote a Leading Thoughts column on “trees as inspiration,” sharing my affection for a wonderful work-in-progress book about ginkgos by Jimmy Shen, a professional botanic photographer based in east China. Last month, my column focused on another book, The Overstory by Richard Powers, a powerful novel about the ways that trees can shape our lives, from birth to death, and maybe beyond.

I received more feedback on those two columns than I did from any of the others I’ve written here, I think because those of us who count ourselves as “tree people” generally don’t leave our interest in trees at our work sites but are also awed and moved by them in our personal lives as well. We look for and admire great trees in the cities, fields and forests where we work, live and travel, and then we also seek out opportunities to celebrate trees in books, art, music, and in all of the other myriad of creative arts.

On one of our recent snow days, I bundled up and walked over to the Art Institute of Chicago – my favorite place in my favorite city, hands down – and wandered around the various galleries there as I often do. In the 19th Century European Art collection, I saw a wonderful painting that I’d not noticed before by Albert Bierstadt, depicting a glorious stand of birches around a rocky waterfall, and I shared a photo of it in on the TREE Fund Twitter feed.

And then I decided to have a full tree day at the museum, walking through every gallery, seeking out great trees in the collection. It was a wonderful way to re-experience galleries that I’ve seen more times than I can count, looking through a different lens at paintings, decorative arts, sculptures, and more. I found abstract trees, photographic trees, and impressionist trees. I was awed by the ways that artists were inspired by trees over centuries and around the world. I shared my findings on social media, and they were widely liked, commented on, and retweeted.

A couple of weeks later, I was home again and the song “The Trees” by the BritPop band Pulp came up on my stereo. Once again, thinking about trees, I decided to have a tree music day, going through the 14,000+ songs that I have on my computer, looking for great ones about trees, woods, forests, and more. I posted my 25 favorite tree songs on my personal website and once again got loads of comments, feedback, and response from others about their favorite tree songs. People just love tree art, in all of its forms.

I recommend you have your own museum tree day, or make a tree song playlist, or look at some other creative idiom through tree lenses. It’s truly rewarding to actively consider how the trees we care for professionally enhance our lives beyond their scientific and landscape value.

The Albert Bierstadt painting that inspired my Tree Day at the Art Institute.

Tree Songs

I was puttering around the apartment this morning, appreciating being indoors as the snow swirled in the cold north wind of a winter storm, and the Family iPod randomly queued up the BritPop band Pulp’s 2001 UK hit song “The Trees.” It’s a moving, melancholy song about love and loss, wherein Jarvis Cocker sings despondently “the trees, those useless trees, produce the air that I am breathing / the trees, those useless trees, they never said that you were leaving.” The song isn’t about trees, exactly, but they shape its narrative and its imagery, and it’s a lovely autumnal work, one of the group’s finest pieces, and a longtime fave of mine.

When it was done, I got to thinking about my other favorite tree-inspired or tree-related songs, and the list was (not surprisingly) fairly long and lush when I actually sat down to compile it. I share the best of the best with you below, working upward (as trees do) from #25 to #1, and with links so you can check ’em out yourself, and then perhaps think about and compile your own list. Please share it in the comments section if you make one, so I can add some new tunes to my new green playlist!

#25. “Fig Tree” by Bunny Wailer

#24. “Forest” by Robert Wyatt

#23. “Tall, Tall Trees” by Roger Miller

#22. “In Dark Trees” by Brian Eno

#21. “A Forest” by The Cure

#20. “The Trees” by Rush

#19. “Back To The Apple” by The Count Basie Orchestra

#18. “Bare Trees” by Fleetwood Mac

#17. “Lemon Tree” by Peter, Paul and Mary

#16. “Red Barked Tree” by Wire

#15. “Aria: Ombra Mai Fu,” from Handel’s Serse by Andreas Scholl

#14. “Leaf and Stream” by Wishbone Ash

#13. “Don’t Sit Under the Apple Tree (With Anyone Else But Me)” by The Coleman Hawkins Quartet

#12. “Fruit Tree” by Nick Drake

#11. “The Oak” by The Albion Band

#10. “The King in the Tree” by Shriekback

#9. “The Saw and the Tree” by Tim Finn

#8. “Sugar Magnolia” by The Grateful Dead

#7. “The Trees” by Pulp

#6. “Deep in the Woods” by The Birthday Party

#5. “Bury Me in Willow” by Asia

#4. “The Green Boy” by Peter Blegvad

#3. “Battle of the Trees” by Katell Keineg

#2. “The Sound of Trees” by Schnell Fenster

#1. “Songs from the Wood” by Jethro Tull

Let me bring you songs from the wood . . .

The Weasels: Smart Music for Stupid Times

The Weasels, The Man Who Saw Tomorrow (Mustella Furioso, 2018)

The Man Who Saw Tomorrow is the seventh studio long player from The Weasels of Albany, New York, who have been offering exquisitely crafted uneasy listening to discerning audiences since the early 1990s. Anchored as always around the songwriting partnership of Dr Fun (who also provides lead vocals, woodwinds, keyboards and sundries) and Roy Weäsell (guitars, vocals, keyboards, programs, etc.), The Man Who Saw Tomorrow features 15 new cuts that apply the duo’s sardonic worldview to a surprisingly topical and timely palette of subjects, creating a very smart, very classy record that’s very much a choice product of its time, never mind how very, very stupid its time happens to be.

Examples: “Et tu Harvey” and “I Sing The Weiner Electric” draw their inspirations from media coverage surrounding the base behavior of notorious #MeToo-era creeps Harvey Weinstein and Anthony Weiner, but then project those galling stories’ awful sensationalism through a twisted surrealist’s lens, turning them into a pair of modern morality parables that have good beats, to which you can cha-cha. “Wokeflake” and “New Black” also tap into current phrases, feelings, and fetishes, and both are charmingly wistful, even as they stomp the broken butterflies of youthful idealism, and deftly nestle today’s traumas into a spectrum of spectacles stretching back a cool century, most especially via the delicious “Wokeflake” chorus text of “Hello America and all the ships at sea / Goodnight Miss Calabash, wherever you may be.” (Walter Winchell and Jimmy Durante there, kids. Google ’em).

And the hits keep coming. “Winona Minnesota” is a heart-worm infected modern love song (“If I loved you like I hate you, all our troubles would be over”) that rides a ridiculously sinuous bass line from guest Weasel Baba Elefante. “Finnegans Wake” is, well, Finnegans Wake, flush with Joyce-isms (e.g. words that don’t quite make sense, but add up to something more than they would if they did), all set to a jolly drinking tune and with Dr Fun stepping away from the microphone to give Weäsell his customary once-per-record lead vocal turn. “Cherry Of Course” and “Gold Medal Flower” have rolling, repetitive, romping, rhyming lyrics that creep pleasurably close to Edward Lear  territory, the former over a rollicking country swing, the latter atop a synth-fortified funk strut. “George Barely” offers a zesty effervescence to the record’s mid-latitudes, all cheer and bubbles and fun, though with a hanging, unfinished chorus line — “and if I ever get the urge to play the blues or sing a dirge . . .” — that adds a pinch of piquant to the proceedings as you ponder just how Fun might finish that phrase.

I could readily and enjoyable unpack every one of The Man Who Saw Tomorrow‘s thirteen lyrics (one song’s an instrumental; more on that latter) at essay length, but for general review purposes, let me settle for saying that these songs are smart beyond reproach, and truly invite and reward active, deep listens. The Weasels’ deft deployment of word play, story-telling, random asides, cryptic references, literary allusions, broadcast bromides, sampled media snippets and other subliminal mutterings are engaging and entertaining, and the depth of meaning gets stronger and stranger as you peel the lyrical onion layers back, trying to figure out just what’s going on, and just how Fun and Weäsell managed to make earworms from such unexpected turns of phrase.

On the musical/instrumental front, The Man Who Saw Tomorrow is mostly delivered by a crack core band of Dr Fun, Roy Weäsell, guitarist Chuck D’Aloia and drummer Art Bernstein. The quartet have chops to spare, and D’Aloia is particularly and notably on fire throughout this album’s run, delivering tasty licks and titanic solos, soup to nuts. With decades and decades of stage and studio experience between them, the core quartet have got the skills to deliver the goods in rock, jazz, folk, country or pretty much any other idioms that inspire them, often pivoting on a dime between genres within a single song, like when an unexpected little breakbeat-EDM-electroclash thingie breaks out at the end of the clattering Bernstein-driven Vaudeville blues of “Fancy That.” There are also a pair of terrific traditional blues numbers with laugh out loud clever lyrics (“Ointment for My Stump” and “Yuge”) and a chunky, funky instrumental groove called “Planieren Sie Die Mond,” which upon closer inspection turns out to be an instrumental remake of “Bulldoze the Moon” from The Weasels’ 1995 sophomore album, Leon’s Mystical Head; the new version of the song features Fun on — wait for it — amazing jazz flute stylings.

Production and sound are as exquisite here as they ever are on a Weasels record (I’m not the only person to have compared them to Steely Dan when it comes to studio fastidiousness), with group co-founder and prodigal sound man Chris Graf returning to the fold (along with Scott Apicelli) to deliver a deep, rich mix that’s a joy on good speakers and (old school) headphones, with all sorts of touches layered atop, between and beneath the obvious bits that you catch on first listen. It’s never busy, but it’s textured in all the right ways. I know The Weasels’ catalog well, and I’ve had a lot of time to spin this disc over the past month and a half with some trans-Atlantic flights and long train trips along the way, and I’m inclined to place The Man Who Saw Tomorrow beside 1998’s Uranus or Bust as their two finest records. (Both Tomorrow and Uranus, as it happens, feature cover art from Michael Oatman, who co-created the “Weasel Vision” multi-media extravaganza back in the days when The Weasels were a live concern). It’s a classic, instantly. And no doubt for years to come, too.

As something of a coda, I want to close this review by discussing opening and closing tracks “Nostradamus is Dead” and “When in Rome” in a bit more detail, as they perfectly frame this exceptional album, lyrically, contextually, and musically. The opener’s got the ballsiest rock riffs on the record, as it spins a tale about, yes, “the man who saw tomorrow,” knitting in narratives about Nostradamus’ fellow traveler seers, hucksters, and seer-hucksters, famous and otherwise, from days gone by, days disgustingly present, and days yet to come. “The world is ending in a horrible fashion,” Fun sings, before noting that we sure could sure use a future-seeing warlock now to help us pierce the fog of worlds on fire and flying saucers crashing and skies turned red and such like. Jesus even makes an appearance here (in his 900-foot tall form), and the song ends with Fun calling out “hey” to a swirling litany of the semi-famous dead, none of whom ever answer.

“When in Rome” opens instrumentally like some lost Earth, Wind and Fire ballad, then rides a killer D’Aloia lick into a tale about an unnamed “he” (or maybe “He” is more fitting) who plans a special celebration, which is described in loving detail, and sounds utterly delightful, until He suddenly and unexpectedly cuts all of His guests’ heads off, mounts them on poles, and later eats pudding from their scooped-out skulls. And that’s just in the first verse! Verse two then explores a world gone crazy (“its brains run out its nose”) where “even Jesus prays that he can make it through the night,” until . . .

” . . . And when the nails were driven, not a fuck was given.
When in Rome, you do as Romans do.
And when the thorns were woven, and the spear was drove in,
when in Rome, you do as Romans do . . .”

Things then dissolve into a swirling fever dream of striking images and incantations (“a rat is a pig is a dog is a boy is a monkey”), culminating with the song’s and the album’s final words — “I fear we’re not in Kansas anymore” — after which D’Aloia solos us out into oblivion, world without end, amen, amen. “When In Rome” is an absolute masterpiece lyric, and a superb companion to fellow album closer “Doubting Thomas” from 2013’s AARP Go The Weasels, which also evoked the passion of Christ in trying to capture just what’s helplessly wrong and perverse about the world around us, and just what we all did to make it that way. Jesus wept, indeed.

It’s heavy, it’s profound, it’s sad, it’s funny, and EWF’s Philip Bailey could totally sing it if he wanted to, because the song itself is so damn funky, and soulful, and sweet. That deeply incongruous and deeply effective/affective (both apply) approach to lyric-writing and music-making has always provided the magic at the heart of The Weasels’ now 100-song strong catalog. What a pleasure it is, every few years or so, whether we deserve it or not, to look up in wonder at a new constellation of wonderful Weasels weirdness, sparkling above the wan and wasted plain of modern musical mediocrity.

LINKS AND REFERENCES:

The Weasels Website (Includes album ordering information)

The Weasels on Twitter 

The Weasels at Wikipedia (History and full discography)

The Man Who Saw Tomorrow on Spotify

J. Eric Smith’s Top 30 Albums of 2018 (Including This One)