Album Reviews

Pete Yorn – Music For The Morning After

(Columbia) UK release date: 1 April 2002

Pete Yorn - Music For The Morning After Eight years on from the death of Kurt Cobain and the eternally unrealised promise of Unplugged In New York, some young American musicians still address imaginatively the problem of authenticity in popular music, trying to identify what can be taken into the new century.

Most British music makers duck behind boyband retro-rock, most effectively promulgated by Robbie Williams (though his Frank Sinatra essay seems a post-modern bridge too far). Others emulate the frayed ends of American developments such as Garage and Jungle and Rap. We all owe a deep debt of gratitude to Ali G for debunking the latter form of non-music.

But in America there are real issues. Mainstream American rock ‘n’ roll has roots not only in the blues/jazz of black Americans, but also in a strong country/western tradition and the democratic process itself. Just take another look at Woodstock. It is this richness of fabric that led to After The Gold Rush and Pet Sounds and Astral Weeks and Nirvana.

There are two significant strands to be considered: the lyrics and the sound. Unlike all else produced by Nirvana, the sound textures in Unplugged charted a future development which few musicians have tried to pursue, perhaps because it is difficult to be truly creative in modern western society, a culture that proclaims doctrinally that all creativity has already reached its fulfilment. This is, after all, the meaning ofNirvana. A few grunge groups such as Pearl Jam stepped tentatively into the shoes of Unplugged. Mark Linkous’ Sparklehorse has been hailed by some as the authentic successor to Lou Reed and Neil Young. It boils down to what we understand by sound. We seek nuance, variation and occasional surprise mixed up with a measure of predictability. In the truest American tradition we have to get the words.

Pete Yorn‘s album Music For The Morning After is likeable for the rational way in which it addresses the issues confronting modern music in crisis. The sound owes something to various post-Nirvana bands, including grunge groups and certainly sharing in the fortunes of some American retros such as Weezer.

There are striking coups worthy of Lou Reed (Lose You or For Nancy) and tracks that develop the complex sound textures of The Velvet Underground (On Your Side). The plaintive twang of EZ reminds us of the early and earnest Neil Young. There is a comfortable rock ‘n’ roll beat in two or three of the tracks (notably Strange Condition). Life On A Chain begins with a gravely, disjointed narrative that grounds the whole album in a specifically American musical tradition – of loss and alienation and despair- both personal and universal.

However, the words let us down. Aside from one or two pungent forays into human emotion, even these not quite up to the love-lorn lyrics of the ’50s/’60s, the sentiments are flat and largely arcane rather than accessible (as rock lyrics need to be). Consider: “Black is a cast, and two is a crowd, and gold rim is an answer” (Black) or “Pots and pans are indestructible. How do you respect your room? If you hadn’t gone tomorrow, you could have stayed on ’til June” (June) or “I never mind the way I had to see ya, my working on a day show never explains why I see you and I feel your pain” (Just Another) – you cannot be serious.

Pete Yorn writes all his own words – or, more likely, they come to him as an adornment for the rich sound textures he weaves. He needs a lyricist. Here he is, potentially at the cutting edge, and he is short of thoughts. This is tragic. Almost as tragic as Kurt Cobain blowing his brains out.

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More on Pete Yorn
Pete Yorn – Pete Yorn
Pete Yorn – Back & Fourth
Pete Yorn – Music For The Morning After