Friday, February 18, 2005

Review: Lou Barlow's Emoh

Lou Barlow is a prodigious songwriter, and has had many previous successful albums. Emoh is his first 'real' solo album. He blends indie-rock/folk-pop with a melodious voice and gentle acoustic guitar-work to create a comfortable album - not necessarily one to rock the charts, but quite capable of doing so.

The lyrics are not particularly insightful, or cynical, yet are reminiscent of early Simon & Garfunkel. The college-rock crowd should be quite enthused, and find resonance with the themes expressed. His twenty-year career has won him many admirers, from rock to pop fans. His frankness makes one almost believe this is a very personal album, like the Fleetwood Mac ones.

The album title itself, while evidently a reversal of 'Home' is more accurately a pun on the musical genre known colloquially as 'emo'. Practioners abound, none more skilled than Lou Barlow. Lou finds it ironic that this album was released in the US on the same day as the new Bright Eyes' albums. He considers Conor Oberst "the new poster boy of emo, let's say. He is so popular it drives my wife crazy."

"Holding Back The Year" blends a fear of old age, 'Kitten grown to cat and no more fight/How'd we ever stay together love...' to a wish that one could hold back time 'The year before the poison took its toll/Made you paper thin, me wrinkled old'. The guitar is delicate, with a few unexpected, pleasantly differently pitched chords.

"Home" is at one level about the uncertainty and indecision of young love, wondering if "I'm not strong/You don't believe/I may be wrong/That I can never bring you home". At another level, it reminds one of the conflict between pure love and sexual desire, as the John Boyle O'Reilly poem "The White Rose" has it,
The red rose whispers of passion,
And the white rose breathes of love;
Oh, the red rose is a falcon,
And the white rose is a dove.

But I send you a cream-white rose-bud
With a flush on its petal tips;
For the love that is purest and sweetest
Has a kiss of desire on its lips
Lou's song alludes to similar emotions, "Yes I did and yes I want to/But nothing good can come to/Someone pretending he is alone"

"Caterpillar Girl" is a rock-rich track, about coaxing his love out of her cocoon, "And then you break through/and drive before my eyes/Take me with you/Where you hide tonight". Very generic, and trite.

"Legendary" is perhaps the most introspective, emo-oriented song on the album. "I re-enact your legendary tragedy/And do to me what has been done to you/Is that the only point to all this misery?/Is there any reason I should cry?" The poignancy of true love, loss, and betrayal, and the wistful question, "Did you Love me?" make this a compelling track. The unanswered question reminds one of the fragment from Roland Barthes' "A Lover's Discourse", Like desire, the love letter waits for an answer; it implicitly enjoins the other to reply, for without a reply the other's image changes, becomes other

Other interesting pieces on this album include a cover of Ratt's "Round-and-Round" - slowed down, paced, balladry, and the clever "Mary", which subverts the virginal tale.
"Immaculate Conception/Yeah right/Crazy Mary/Good That you lied

A test tube baby/Seed Of the Lord/Breaking the Law/With the man next door

Blame it on an angel/They'll believe/Joseph, who wandered/But you know he won't leave

They all love you/I still do/Magic in the air/Swirling all around you

Mary, Mary under the veiled stars/You changed the world/And broke my heart/Thank you, Mary/You saved me too/

They'd stone us both if they ever knew/You sold out the manger, all right/Mystery baby-got a supernova spotlight/
Mary kissed me/We lost control/The oldest story never told/Crazy Mary/You're forever divine/They'll never know/The baby's mine/...

The final song, "The Ballad of Daykitty" is evidently inspired by Lou's personal feline adventures, about an amorous kitty, and a neighbor's cat, and a twist that is, shall we say, more Will than Grace.

An entertaining album, worth many listens. The production is an interesting mix of studio-produced, and home-recorded ditties. The singer's website has more neat, cool stuff, including kitty doodles.

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