The most important album of the decade of the 1990s. Oh, I know; the competition was fierce, what with Flea dislocating his nads with the trampoline-like onslaught of the Red Hot Something or Others, and the chemo patient from R.E.M. trying to find a place to put his hands when he sings his angsty heart out, and the Crash Test Dummies doing their impersonation of Mel Torme on PCP. I'm being bleak, aren't I? It wasn't the worst of times, musically, but it certainly wasn't the best of times, either. Suffice it to say that the bookending of the 1980's radio hits with those of the 1990s turned me to talk radio for entertainment.

Then I ran across this little gem, released almost exactly five years ago, from turning the dials one day in a desperate search for something new and interesting. I heard some strains of a song called King of New Orleans and my interest was piqued. I've spent my share of time in the Big Easy, and this song seemed to capture the mood very well. I didn't really hear the words until Cat Stevens jumped out at me. That meant something to me from days gone by, but what in the world did Cat Stevens have to do with Nawlins? And why was this damn song over when I was just getting interested?

Even though I have been burned by more albums and CDs than you would care to hear about, I went to the used CD store and bought it, new. I was fully expecting this "King of Nawlins" song to be the only thing on there I would listen to until I tired of it and sold it back to the store at the discount rate as a downpayment on some classic CD from the past. (This had happened before. Lots of times.)

This is Better Than Ezra's second album, and I think it is still the best thing they've ever done. It's harder, overall, and the lyrics are more poetic, overall, than the other three. It's just a damn shame that this never became popular outside of a small circle of folks. But I'm not surprised. After all, the bass player doesn't play in his underwear and jump up and down like a leprechaun on crystal meth, and the singer / songwriter uses his hands to play the guitar, like God intended. Hell, I don't even think they've got tattoos. It's just not unusual enough for today's crowd, I guess.

The songs:

  • King of New Orleans
    Anyway you look, anyway you talk it over.
    It's easier to let it slip out of your mind.
    But it rips your heart out.
    Then it kicks your head in.
    Just give him one more chance;
    Try to see the beauty in his world.
    • This was the one which started all this fascination with this group for me. And they open almost every show with it, when I see them live. You can't write a better song than this, and I want to piss on MTV for not fulfilling their commitment to music.
  • Rewind
    In my car we are superstars.
    Run your lipstick down your chin
    While up ahead we saw such a crash.
    Right there a song became a soundtrack
    For this space in time.
    • So let's play it all over again, and again. It's like a photo album, isn't it? I'm telling you that Kevin Griffin is pouring his heart out in these songs like very few rock stars will allow themselves to do.
  • Long Lost
    I've given ballast,
    Held you up when you were falling down.
    What happens when I'm not around?
    • Ever screwed someone you were friends with just because they were in a bad way and you felt sorry for them? The mercy fuck. It's the worst.
  • Normal Town
    Hey! Wouldn't it be great
    To never worry about your future,
    Never asking why?
    Hey! Hey? In a subdivision
    Watching television
    And our lives go by.
  • Scared, Are You?
    Strong hands
    Big plans
    All reduced to this.
    • This song is like a lyrical haiku of sorts to those young folks who don't think they're going to make it. Some of the best advice I've ever heard in a song, however:
      You do it on your own. We all do.
  • Return of the Postmoderns
    Feeding line caught tuna
    To a neutered Bodhisattva.
    • When I first listened to this CD, I never thought I'd enjoy a song as hard as this. It's just damn loud. But the louder I turned it up, the more I learned to love it. In fact, I think a lot of the stuff my daughter enjoys would have been lost to me due to the fact that I would not have had the inclination to jack that volume knob up high enough to understand.
  • Hung the Moon
    • I have to tell you that I'm not wild about this one. It sounds suspiciously like the following song, and I see it as a bookend piece; as a different treatment of the same theme as
  • Desperately Wanting
    Take back your life and let me inside;
    We'll find the door if you care to anymore.
    • This is the one which got the most airplay in most markets, I believe. They still play it at every show I've been to. It's got a good hook and I like it. But if you don't get the stretching sound he makes by scraping his pick up the neck when he sings, "Baby burst in the world," like you get on the CD, you miss a lot of what makes this song great.
  • Still Life With Cooley
    People hanging with their good friends
    Listening to those old songs.
    • And you can tell fairly easily that this is one of those old songs. This one should have been on the first album, Deluxe. It doesn't fit in here at all. This is the only really bad mistake on this CD.
  • WWOZ
    Let go of you fear,
    let's grow old together
    Find a place along the way
    Let's reel through the years
    Each makes the other better.
    But what thoughts can I call allies
    When this circle of ribs keeps working on its own?
    • A ballad which says as much about the human condition as any song I've ever heard in my life. And I've heard damn near all of them you'd care to throw up at me in order to refute that. What can we really call permanent in these brains of ours when even our taste buds are changing every few years? I imagine T.S. Eliot would have loved this line as he made his late entrance to the Catholic faith. I imagine Robert McNamara might find these lines provocative as he rehashes his memories of where his head was at during the Vietnam War. Rock music does not get deeper than this, even if you get caught out on 4th Street or in some warehouse.
  • Happy Endings
    Sundays were made for this.
    Seeing Bond give the villain a kiss.
    • Laying around on a lazy Sunday, hungover, watching .007. Who hasn't? This song is so lovely in its minimalist nature of Speak, Memory, that you'd have thought they would have ended this string of wonderment with it. But there's one last tip for the grownups coming up.
  • Speeding Up to Slow Down
    When they all believe
    You reject it.
    When they all are for,
    Be against it.
    • There it is, Young Turks. You think we didn't all feel this way at one point? Well, most of us. The weird ones. The message to the grownups is, it'll all slow down for them sooner or later (if they survive). Don't try and put your hand on nature. Just hope they don't blow a tire when it's going a million MPH for them. It's the best you can do. God bless 'em.

And God bless this band for the joy they've brought into my life. I was more than happy to pass this on to riverrun and let him catch the football before it's too late.

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