Monday, June 13, 2005

Classic Albums: Dear 23 - The Posies

Dear 23 was a seminal power-pop-rock album of the 1990s by The Posies. It drew it's name from the sly Illuminatus trilogy of Robert Anton Wilson, wherein, 23 takes the role, in effect, of Douglas Adams "42", a mystic pattern that appears everywhere, if you look hard enough.

The album blends influences from The Beatles, The Hollies, and 60s-Summer-of-Love Pop. It was not a commercial success, but gave the band a certain reputation which was not belied by their next album "Frosting On The Beater". A couple of the songs are still regulars on good radio playlists.

"My Big Mouth" is a fast-rhyming tale of a relationship gone wrong. It flings together some interesting musical tones, varying the tempo to create a disjointed effect that is quite effective in creating a mood of disaffection, and the reluctance of the lover, perhaps ex-, to reveal the causes of the break-up. "The words come quickly I feel sick/I use that for an excuse to exit/Looks like you don't buy it/And I'm trying your patience/But what I leave unsaid sticks in my head/The guilt puts me in a spotlight/Looks like I might reveal/You're not my sole engagement"

"Golden Blunders" takes the theme of relationships gone wrong, or perhaps wrong relationships even further. A marriage gone bad, or perhaps the law of unintended consequences and pregnancies, all too soon, leaves a taste more bitter than one which never got off the ground. An abrupt pause in the song, at about 2:42, creates an unusual effect, one of a very real break. "Honeymoons will never start, bonds will blow apart/Just as fast as they were made/Men and women please beware : don't pretend you care/Nothing lasts when nothing's there"

Unusual lyrics mark "Apology" as a class apart. The song carries many reminiscent tones, a bouquet of wistful memories. It seems to continue the sequence of heartbreak that is chronicled in this album. Gentle notes wrap up the piece. If we fall to touch there will be no backlogged time/You can make believe it (like a bunch of postcards)/And the stones will read in a modest fashion :/"Don't expect too much - you might be disappointed..."

She leaves him, but really, he wouldn't have it "Any Other Way", perhaps because "It gives him something to write about". Stringfellow embraces his rancid depression in this song, mixes in some wry humor and renders a jangly tune of break-up. "She left me alone, claiming we'd run out of things to fight about/I was crushed of course, but at least I've something I can write about/I guess I'm just some kind of malcontent/Who gets paid for having nothing good to say/And even though it doesn't pay the rent/You know I wouldn't have it any other way"

The dark, insightful "You Avoid Parties" is perhaps set mid-stream in a relationship, when one has understood the other, confidences have been shared, and the veil of deception has fallen away, yet it is just before the starkness reveals the personal ugliness, the small warts become sore spots, and the break-up begins. "And now you're finally on your own/You draw your choices from the voices you despise"

"Suddenly Mary" is a mysterious blend of Aesop's fables, nursery rhymes, and saving a love. I love the mid-section, a fable become real.'Suddently Mary fell in the water/I found myself married to somebody's daughter
"Loving,"she told me,/"is a question of bravery"/But when she started to hold me/it was closer to slavery
I got up for a bite to eat and found my clothes inside the icebox/I used to stand on my two feet but now I sit when my new wife talks"'

"Help Yourself" restores the power-pop tempo, but the song becomes a far more hurtful, acid-tinged look at break, after all the years of 'broken plates and glasses and shouting hurt my ears'. From the beginning, when 'Without trying hard I made it final/And we conceived our children on backseat vinyl', to the confession 'I can't tell you why it all breaks down/And please don't ask me why I'm no longer around', this is a sad tale indeed.

"Mrs Green" is about a lonely, bitter old lady, 'turning green with envy over me'. No points for guessing who's the subject of the piece.

"Everyone Moves Away" is a nostalgic look at "the big nameless house/From which everyone moves away", and about growing up, moving on.

The anthemic, memorable "Flood Of Sunshine" wraps up the album with some Ozymandias-like thoughts, expressing perhaps the intent of this dark collection, that the true love is the one we leave behind. "We could drown ouselves in a flood of sunshine/We could walk all night still I'd see sunshine/It the calling of your name/All sounds combine into the same and I hear you"

Dear 23/The Posies Frosting on the Beater/Posies Success/The Posies Touched/Ken Stringfellow Heartbreak Hotel Heartbreak Hotel & Other Hits/Elvis Presley

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