Wednesday, June 26, 2013

The Pursuit of Happiness: A Postscript

As I mentioned in the comments today, I got a very nice note from TPOH frontman Moe Berg after I reviewed their second major label album in October of 1990 at the Magazine Formerly Known as Stereo Review. The intertubes being the wondrous thing that they are, I was pleasantly surprised to find the review was actually on-line, and I append it here.


Performance: Somber
Recording: Very good

The last time they checked in, with their 1988 album Love Junk, the Pursuit of Happiness revealed themselves to be a splendid anomaly of a band, virtually the creators of their own genre: Wiseguy Pop/Metal with great tunes and honest lyrics about sex. Led by Moe Berg (whom I referred to at the time as the first important guy named Moe in rock history), they dispensed music that was at once witty and serious, tuneful and hard-edged, playful and almost profound, all in the context of an examination of the sorry state of relations between the sexes here in the declining days of the century Isaac Bashevis Singer called "on balance, a complete flop." Clearly, this was a significant bunch of musicians.

Well, here they are again at the dawn of the Nineties, and their latest record, One Sided Story, proves that their debut was by no means a fluke. The music is as tough and mature (in the best sense) as one could hope, and again Todd Rundgren's production fits the band like the proverbial you-know-what. Nevertheless, and at the risk of sounding churlish, I have to say that some of the fun has gone out of the enterprise. Serious as Love Junk may have been, it was also one of the best dance-around-the-house albums since the first Pretenders album, and One Sided Story is a far more somber affair. In fact, if there's a unifying emotional theme to Berg's new songs, it's a sort of rueful desperation. And while most of us will recognize the feeling, even identify on some level, the songs don't exactly make you want to do the boogaloo. The most wrenching emotionally is "Shave Your Legs," in which Berg sets you up for a sort of collegiate sexist joke and then shifts gears into an absolutely heartbreaking lover's plea to save a disintegrating relationship. It's an astonishing performance.

Of course, not everything is slash-your-wrists depressing. "Food," for example, has one of the funniest openings ever penned for a rock song, and the eminently hummable "Runs In the Family" notes that beauty is "as easy as DNA," an insight unlikely to occur to, say, Jon Bon Jovi. But even though the band's execution of Berg's tunes retains an admirably ferocious (but not overbearing) crunch-guitar attack, and even though Berg's singing is taking on an endearingly Lou Reedian cast, there's no getting around the fact that - perhaps deliberately - One Sided Story is something of a bummer. That's a relative judgment, of course - on an off day these kids make smarter music than 99 percent of the metal bands in the Western World. But what the album ultimately sounds like is the soundtrack for Moe Berg's evolution from undergraduate smartaleck into confident adult, which is to say that it's a little strained and a little awkward. That doesn't mean you shouldn't buy this record for your own personal collection. In fact, you should. It just means that growing up is a bitch and I for one wish Berg and Company all the luck in the world while they do it. -- S.S.

I should add that after this ran, my then editor chewed me out for wasting so much space on a review that wasn't an out and out rave.

Why I didn't quit on the spot is a very long story, and if you get me drunk some time I may tell it to you.


Anonymous said...

I'm buying.

Allan Rosenberg

Anonymous said...

Second through tenth rounds are on me.


Anonymous said...

That is one beautifully written review. I can see why Moe dropped you a note, which was something that took a lot more effort to do than it does today. As an artist, it's nice to know when someone has listened into, and been moved by, what you do. Better than that is when they "get" what you're doing.

I'm gonna give my copy another listen. I remember being disappointed in it. But you know how it is with music sometimes. Your circumstance, expectation, your mood, your schedule, which way the wind's blowing and a host of other factors can influence your opinion.

That's the kind of stuff for which Stereo Review paid you the "big bucks." That's the kind of stuff that made me get my own subscription during the mid-Seventies.

Which editor chewed you out? I'll give you a drink from my loving cup.:)

I read Stereo Review from around 1969 onward. But quite sporadically beyond the Seventies. The first copies I read were at my uncle's house. He was only five years older than me on my mom's side. I had much more than a crush on him. I was always at his house, which was in walking distance from my parents. We taught each other a few things. He bought the mag more for the stereo gear articles. I devoured the music reviews.

Before you showed up, they had guys like Rex Reed sometimes assigned to review rock albums. What?!? How wrong is that? But he did.

My History of Eric Clapton 2-LP set has a review by Rex Reed that I taped onto the inside gatefold. If I remember correctly, Rex said something to the effect of I don't understand or like this kind of music, but I think Eric has a bright future ahead of him.

And when the magazine sent Rex to interview Grace Slick at 2400 Fulton Street it resulted in one of the most classic articles in the annals of Stereo Review.

The magazine had other critics like Joel Vance and Noel Coppage, but it never had the credibility of an authentic rock critic till they got you. Steve Simels was the best they ever had and I looked forward to your column as well as the reviews.

Here's to you! Take a little drink of my loving cup. Just one drink and you'll fall down drunk.

What a beautiful buzz! What a beautiful buzz!

Vickie Rock

steve simels said...

Vicki -- words fail me.

As I'm wont to say -- if I had blood, I'd be blushing.

buzzbabyjesus said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
buzzbabyjesus said...

I remember reading Rex Reed's review of "The Yes Album". Need I say more?

I bought "One Sided Story" because of your review, which is a lot better than the cd.