I know, I’m probably late to the party writing about this album. Then again, I never claimed to be any kind of real music journalist, just a guy who likes to write about music. Plus, it’s a big album, I needed adequate time to chew it over.
There’s a misguided, but nonetheless widespread, conception that playing rock and roll music is the province of the young and naive, those yet to take on real responsibilities in life; that being in a band, supposedly thereby chasing some elusive/illusive stardom, is something you’re supposed to grow out of. And indeed, playing in a band can look incompatible with full adult life; for instance, most 9-to-5 gigs don’t take kindly to your just picking up and taking off for a month on tour. So when it comes to the music game, there’s a looming societal pressure as one stares down their 30s to give up the silly teenage rock-star dreams, hang up the guitar, and just grow the fuck up already.
But that’s just it: nobody with an immature, teenager mindset would take music seriously enough, nor would they be organized enough, to be able to still do it while working it around jobs, families, grad school. Certainly not after one’s bandmates have all moved to different states hundreds of miles away from each other for those things. Working hard to write the best songs you can, and slogging through the grunt-work of getting out and selling a record, is actually a downright grown-up thing to do. That’s just what Poison Control Center have done, and the album itself is about those very conflicts: about worrying about your youth slipping away, and whether growing up/older really means being obligated to stop being creative and fun, to stop burning with that brightness and energy we’re all supposed to associate with youth.
Youthful energy and abandon are certainly something that Poison Control Center know a thing or two about. In their live sets they’re known for getting absolutely crazy, hanging upside-down from the rafters, knocking over their gear. There may not be a more fit band out there at this moment to write and perform the songs on Sad Sour Future. Yet it’s hard not to see the ambitious 17-song album, and the epic, some might say insane, year-long tour now in progress, as a desperate last-ditch attempt by Poison Control Center to try to transcend their hometown-hero status while they still have a chance, to see if maybe-just-maybe they can make a career out of this music thing and thus avoid that very growing-up that’s probably expected of them, which, maybe they really believe means that if they don’t “make it” in some sense with this record, that the band will finally have to end. If they have even half of another record like this one still left in them, then I sure hope not.
Yeah I know, yawnsville, none of this addresses what the record sounds like. Fine. Never mind the Pavement reunion, Poison Control Center have everything you love about Pavement but with new melodies, new lyrics, and a bit of that Flaming Lips whimsy thrown in. Poison Control Center’s pop instincts are always very much evident, but never to the detriment of the raw and freewheeling (experimental?) tendencies beloved to the duct-tape-guitar set. These songs are both patchworks of gritty guitar sounds, and summery jams you can sing along to, of the sort likely to end up with that “soundtrack to a chapter of your life” quality that lends emotional weight and meaning to the well-chosen chord changes — another one of those musical experiences that, at 35, I had suspected one is supposed to grow out of, until this album proved me wrong. This is music that works on the age 25-to-40 heartstrings the way you thought pop music was only supposed to work on the 17-to-25, much of it revolving around those themes I’ve already addressed, and in the final analysis the orientation seems to be one of cautious optimism that the rock and roll spirit will prevail. If Poison Control Center are right, maybe we’ll all be at the rock club in our middle age, embarrassing our kids, knowing that we probably look like dorks to the twentysomethings and completely not caring because we know in our hearts, hearts bursting with fun and meaning and creativity, that we are in fact more rock and more awesome than they in their limited experience can possibly know. We at least have had time to live some shit worth singing about.