When you’ve been in a band as influential as Pavement, it’s almost impossible to extricate yourself entirely from its legacy. Yet Scott Kannberg has consistently chipped away over the years, slowly establishing his own unique musical furrow. With Preston School Of Industry he channeled the spirit of Lou Reed and occasionally cast his gaze backwards to make sense of his past (such as on the heartfelt Whalebones), and under his own name he’s released three albums of sun-kissed, woozy, laid back rock that have put a little distance between him and the band that made his name(s).
Somewhat unsurprisingly, given the current global political climate, We Wanna Be Hyp-No-Tized steps away from the personal reflection that informed his previous solo effort Doris And The Daggers and focuses, for the most part, on more political matters. What is peculiar is that the tone of the album doesn’t much reflect the chaos, hate and confusion that is enveloping the world at the moment. If anything, We Wanna Be Hyp-No-Tized is perhaps Spiral Stairs‘ most chipper offering to date.
In the lead up to the album, Kannberg has apparently been immersed in the likes of Van Morrison, Nick Lowe and Roxy Music. These influences bubble to the surface frequently throughout which makes for a fairly straight-up radio friendly rock album. Any of Spiral Stairs historical wonky approach has been dispatched, but thankfully his ear for a decent melody and guitar hook remains firmly in place. It’s not all completely easy listening, every so often he does throw a bit of grit into the mix.
The album opens with a swirling spiral of noise undercutting a saxophone motif before launching into the footstomping Hyp-No-Tized. Reflecting on media misdirection, a “filthy czar” and the brain washing of an entire country, there’s a serious message at the heart of the song. Kannberg keeps things light and knowing, by cribbing his vocal meter from Dr Frank N. Furter’s Sweet Transvestite and throwing in a quick reference to The Fall‘s Hip Priest (Hip! Hip!) for good measure. All of which suggests that these songs possess layers beyond their apparently feel good rock approach.
The Fool reaches back into the past and comes across like a sister song to Preston School Of Industry’s Falling Away. It’s a laid back, shimmering song that highlights Kannberg’s ability to write catchy guitar hooks. It’s a passable rock tune, but perhaps not the most incisive or inspired moment on the album. Kannberg is at his best when he’s truly cutting loose. His lyrics might, at time be a little politically simplistic, but he finds the balance between keeping his songs accessible and still saying something.
Borderline examines the current US/Mexico situation, albeit in clumsy lyrical fashion. It’s entirely possible that in adopting the simplistic rhetoric of the US administration, he’s gently mocking the political voice of the White House, most of which comes via Twitter. “They build a wall, that we will climb” Kannberg states before offering “they’ll take your bread and shoot you dead – they’re taking lives at the borderline”. Wrapped up in a jaunty ’80s rock tune, complete with handclaps, it’s quite easy to miss the song’s gravity. The image of speeding along a freeway with the top down singing those lines and not thinking what their about seems all too imaginable. Maybe that’s the point.
Sometimes you need a bit of aggression to shake things up a bit, and whilst there’s little on Hyp-No-Tized that is capable of really tearing off your face, BTG (Blame The Government) gives it a good go. Serrated guitars, insistent drums and some neatly layered up noise call to mind The Stooges at their best as Kannberg points the finger directly at the Government.
Ultimately, We Wanna Be Hyp-No-Tized will deliver depending on what you bring to it and what you want from it. The political comment is swamped in feel good rock tunes, so if you’re looking to get politically inspired that option is as open as simply just wanting good solid songs. For those who hanker after that ’70s and ’80s sound favoured by the likes of Tom Petty, there’s plenty of that in the likes of Hold On (Till I Figure It Out), which also alludes to David Bowie and Blondie in its lyrics. Diario slows things down for those who prefer to rock slowly whilst Them Cold Eyes takes things in a slightly funky direction. It’s all done perfectly, as you would expect and sounds wonderfully polished, but little more dirt would make the political slant hit a little harder.