If only Morrissey wasn’t such a stubborn old sod. After all those years hanging around in the USA he’s never shown any inclination to start dabbling in Alt-Country, or to talk in a Deep South accent. This to some degree is a great shame. After all who wouldn’t want to see the great man take to the stage accompanied only by Skeeter, a man who blows rhythm sections out of an empty bottle?
Joe Pernice has probably also cursed the rigidity of the Moz, set his own path accordingly, and filled a niche in the market at the same time. Not that Live a Little features a sole breathy booze soaked rhythm section of course. This is a very lush offering indeed; string and brass sections jostle for space in these perfectly orchestrated pop tunes.
Automaton, the track that opens up Live a Little, has little time for such frivolities however. Far and away the catchiest tune on the album, it hops along to an almost Motown rhythm, whilst managing to sound like the more literate elder brother of Ob-La-Di Ob-La-Da. It’s a bit of a red herring though because from here on things take a far more solemn tone.
Somerville has me checking to make absolutely sure that Martin Rossiter has nothing to do with this record at all as it could easily have been plucked from Gene’s Olympian album. That curiosity satisfied, the first thing to notice about Somerville is the lyrics. It’s a song full of regret and carefully chosen words that conjure up a feeling of total and utter homesickness. Musically we’re about as far away from the opening pop stomp of Automaton as you can get; the gentle country strum complimenting Joe’s voice perfectly, and letting his melodies drive the song.
This album’s greatest moments are to be found in Pernice’s lyrics. Every song is packed with ideas, well chosen adjectives, and words that really have no business being in songs at all. I can’t think of many other songs that feature the words “ersatz”, “sublimate” or “panacea”. Nor can I think of many songs that are so overtly literate that they don’t render their writer slightly pretentious. Many of these songs are truly evocative: while Pernice’s voice meshes beautifully with the music, his lyrics twist melancholic and occasionally sepia toned images in your mind as the tunes breeze by like the warm breath of the summer wind.
If there were any criticism to be leveled at this album, it’s that it is a little bland around the edges. Some of the songs have little in the way of hooks or melodies that impose themselves on you and can easily slip by unnoticed. When it works though, such as on the genuinely affecting closing track Grudge F*** (2006), the genius of Joe Pernice’s song writing is self evident.