My Pathetic Life
(Off Hour Rockers)
First Appeared at The Music Box, June 2000, Volume 7, #6
Written by Michael Karpinski
We all know better than to judge a record by its cover (would anybody have bothered buying The White Album if "The BEATLES" hadnít been so squarely stamped on it?), but sometimes to dismiss a disc solely on the basis of aesthetic principle ó a derivative design; an unflattering font ó is to save oneself much time and trouble in the long run. For indisputable proof, thereís the scoldeesí woefully wet-noodled debut, My Pathetic Life, the cover of which depicts a dog at the beach, slick pink tongue fully unfurled, "adorably" sporting a pair of designer sunglasses ó exactly the sort of frat-tacky sight-gag one might expect from a ZZ Top or Van Halen video, circa 1984. Alas, My Pathetic Lifeís back cover is no picnic, either. Well, actually, it is a picnic ó one that finds the New York quartet noshing in a graveyard in true Long Island style: bagels, watermelon, wine, and ó just for that subtle touch ó a self-consciously "quirky" candelabra. Ah, the fun-loviní frivolity of it all. And we havenít even gotten the jewel box open yet.
The scoldees are led by principal songwriters and duel lead vocalists Jack Hoffmann and Nancy Sirianni (the latter espoused to Howard Stern stooge Jackie Martling; no wonder these folks are so gosh darned wacky). Sirianni sounds an awful lot like Alanis Morissette on the songs Silly Girl and All I Want, but most of the time comes across as a knock-off Shawn Colvin. With Hoffmann, the vibe turns decidedly "Toad the Wet Sprocket opening for Toto" ó only with a lower excitement quotient. Granted, Masks features some pleasantly percolating percussion, but the crescendo it threatens to build to never quite comes. And the bandís rather shallow stab at atmospheric funk (Cellophane Man) ends up much closer in spirit and execution to a "Weird" Al Yankovic parody of Frank Stallone. Through it all, the scoldeesí lyrics prove so hopelessly clumsy and cliched that Deepak Chopra would sell his soul to disown them. Take, for example, the following breathless gem from Dragonfly: "You canít see me but your eyes are open wide and then they turn right into stone/You are fleeting but I canít forget your eyes that break right through my brittle bones." Or Insideís Sting-sings-Sigmund Freud: "Are your thoughts locked in a guarded cell you call your conscience?/Use your voice to turn the key/Listen to the words of your solitary prisoner/Set them free." Or My Bright Lifeís timeless existential inquiry: "Is there life beyond the muse of a foolís reflection?" Hmm... a question for Shirley MacLaine if ever there was one.
For all their obvious shortcomings, the scoldees may be just the ticket for anybody who finds Yo La Tengo too up-tempo; Dead Can Dance too "happy;" Crash Vegas, Wild Colonials, and the Walkabouts too overexposed. Other likely suckers for My Pathetic Lifeís slight, sleight-of-hand shenanigans: collectors of garden gnomes, fans of Jay Leno and Americaís Funniest Home Videos, and anybody whoís ever cooed "Oh, how cute!" when confronted with those dangling kitten-and-raccoon refrigerator magnets and their inevitably exclamatory caption: "Hang in there!" That said, if the scoldees have any intention of eventually wooing a wider, decidedly less kitsch-as-kitsch-can clientele, they would be well-advised to leave the graveyard humor to Marvell and Morrissey, and the pretentious lower-case affectation to e.e. cummings and k.d. lang. They might also take a minute or two to consider just what it is they have to offer listeners that is in any way useful or new. As Sirianni sings on the NRBQ-"cute" title track: "I canít believe Iím making music out of my pathetic life/It donít matter anyway." Well put. And too true.
My Pathetic Life is one record that deserves to be judged and rejected by its cover(s). To do so is to save ourselves 46 minutes and 20 seconds of irreplaceably precious time. After all, we have our own pathetic lives to lead ó our own pathetic records to write. Ĺ
My Pathetic Life is available from Barnes & Noble.
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2000 The Music Box