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Sunday, May 9, 2010

Andrew Bird: Thrills


ANDREW BIRD'S BOWL OF FIRE: THRILLS (1998)

1) Minor Stab; 2) Ides Of Swing; 3) Glass Figurine; 4) Pathetique; 5) Depression/Passillo; 6) 50 Pieces; 7) A Wo­man's Life And Love; 8) Swedish Wedding March; 9) Eugene; 10) Gris-Gris; 11) Cock O' The Walk; 12) Nuthin­duan Waltz; 13) Some Of These Days/Chinatown, My Chinatown.

«Andrew Bird's Bowl Of Fire» is hardly the best name for a band recording this kind of music. «Bowl of Fire» suggests «Ball Of Fire», and «Ball Of Fire» suggests either Deep Purple, or that corny, but funny movie of Billy Wilder's where Gene Krupa and Barbara Stanwyck collectively explode over a version of 'Drum Boogie'. If there is a fire somewhere on Thrills, Bird's first seri­ous contribution to the outside world, it is a highly metaphorical one.

Surrounding himself with fellow Chicago musicians, as well as guests from the Squirrel Nut Zip­pers, Bird pays his personal homage to pre-war popular music. Delta blues, small combo jazz, a little swing, a little Charleston, and lots of Kurt Weill. If you are too young to care about them old times, think Tom Waits without all the experimentation and with a sweet croon instead of the toilet rasp. Beyond that, some older folk influences are carried over from Music Of Hair: there are two and a half minutes of a 'Swedish Wedding March' (apparently, the Swedes make little distinction between a wedding and a funeral), and a new, fuller, and slightly less grating version of 'Nuthinduan Waltz' from the previous album.

The listing says «all songs written and composed by Andrew Bird», with but a couple exceptions; this is obviously untrue, since on most of them, the only true original writing concerns the lyrics — Bird's end-of-the-century verbal updating of the beginning-of-the-century subjects is astute and funny: even Brecht would have had trouble coming up with stuff like 'Studies have shown that we, like sheep, are prone to sure fatal doses of malcontent through osmosis; but don't be sympathetic, just pass the anaesthetic, 'cuz sheep are benign and on the young we will dine' ('Eu­gene'). The melodies, on the contrary, are fully in the traditional vein, and this means, in mild terms, «appropriated» — 'Cock O' The Walk', for instance, is no more composed by Andrew Bird than 'Amazing Grace' (for some nice competition on that melody, how about checking out Robert Johnson's 'They're Red Hot'?). I have no idea why the tune is credited to Bird when, at the same time, 'Some Of These Days' is credited to Charley Patton (not that Charley Patton actually wrote 'Some Of These Days', either, but I suppose that Andrew just wanted to namedrop the man, which is a cool gesture. If you happen to be the lucky winner who has learned about Charley Patton through Andrew Bird's Bowl Of Fire, contact me and we'll make history together).

There is not much to tell about individual tunes: a tribute is a tribute, a stylization a stylization, and all of this has a solid post-modern flair that justifies the album's existence in the first place. Bird and his musicians love their influences, they have a real good time doing what they are do­ing, and yet, Thrills is still not really as thrilling as Andrew's further evolution; at this time, he has made the transition from homebrewn experimentator and self-teacher to a likeable and intel­ligent entertainer, but he is still doing his homework. Thumbs up for the homework, and I will reserve more writing space for things to come.

1 comment:

  1. Hmmm... I don't know what Swedish weddings Andrew has attended, but obviously not the same as me.

    Yeah, not a lot to say about this otherwise, except I am getting a bit tired of all these post-modern fellas releasing obvious homework material. Can't they just spend a couple of years in Hamburg instead?

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