BEULAH: YOKO (2003)
1) A Man Like Me; 2) Landslide Baby; 3) You're Only King Once; 4) My Side Of The City; 5) Hovering; 6) Me And Jesus Don't Talk Anymore; 7) Fooled With The Wrong Guy; 8) Your Mother Loves You Son; 9) Don't Forget To Breathe; 10) Wipe Those Prints And Run.
Allegedly, Beulah openly threatened that if their next record did not reach gold status, they would split up — quite a heavy threat for a year in which the top-selling acts were 50 Cent, Linkin Park, Christina Aguilera, and Beyoncé, to name a few. But most importantly, who in his right mind would name an album Yoko if he really wanted it to sell a significant amount of copies? Above everything else, didn't they realize that most people probably thought that «Beulah» was the name of the album, and that «Yoko» was the artist? (Unless that was the plan all along, of course, but in that case, why Yoko and not Lennon? Ain't no copyright on the word «Lennon», either).
More importantly, there ain't one single reason in the world why Yoko should have sold more than The Coast Is Clear in the first place. The previous record, at least, was Beulah's diverse and sunny masterpiece. Yoko, in comparison, is gloomier, bitter-er, full of depressed, melancholic, sometimes near-suicidal messages, endless references to broken hearts, losing sides, stars refusing to shine, and all sorts of diagnostic lights indicating that Mike Kurosky is, like, totally becoming a cheerless whiner, and is, in fact, all set to take his musical cues from Pink Floyd now rather than the Beatles and the Beach Boys. And he wants this to sell? In 2003? No fuckin' way. Not even a little.
Besides, despite this «refreshing» change of face, the general Beulah problem remains the same: many, if not most, of these songs still suffer from a lack of solid hooks and fail to convey the desired effect. Basically, the record is gloomy, but not that gloomy. The first lines of ʽDon't Forget To Breatheʼ are delivered with a «tender sneer» that reminds of Roger Waters (listen to Mike bouncing those "land-MINES hide in your LINES..." nasal bombs off the wall), but there is no burning fire, no genuine intensity to that delivery, and the entire song, with all of its carefully thought out overlays, is still painfully «lite». Nice, but underworked and unconvincing — and the same predictably applies to everything else.
If you take Beulah as «intellectual musical theater», some of the compositions are still interesting to follow while they are on — something like ʽMe And Jesus Don't Talk Anymoreʼ can probably serve as the basis for an entire Ph.D. thesis as you pick out all the lyrical and musical references and try to understand how it's all tied together. There's some Tin Pan Alley, some New Orleans, some Nashville here, some odd mood swings from anger to optimism to some sort of nonchalant acceptance of the fact that "you're going nowhere", and then there's the song title that is not referred to at all in the lyrics. A bizarre potboil.
But the very few songs that actually make a lasting impression are those that, somehow, most likely, accidentally, capture some nerve-tingling wisps — the world-weary banjo riff of ʽFooled With The Wrong Guyʼ; the honestly catchy chorus of ʽYour Mother Loves You Sonʼ (the "last night's a loaded gun..." bit); and, most importantly, the epic finale of ʽWipe Those Prints And Runʼ, where they give it their all and manage to generate some desperate stateliness in the face of all odds. These bits and pieces seem to work all right. Yet that is what they are — bits and pieces. Not a lot to feel good about when the first five songs do not register in my mind at all.
Given all these feelings and impressions, I must admit that I do not lament over the passing of Beulah. «All form and no substance» would be much too arrogant and unfounded a final judgement, but while there can be no question about Beulah mastering and owning a certain kind of «form», the «substance», most of the time, has eluded me — like so many of these other nostalgizing bands, Beulah, to me, seem like they were so afraid of being judged as «simplistic» that they hid their emotional side behind a veil of metaphors, similes, understatements, deconstructions, and heavy overdubs. A veil heavy enough to give you the right to doubt whether they did have an emotional side in the first place. It is almost symbolic, then, that Yoko, announcing the band's end, came out in September 2003 — approximately at the same time that Arcade Fire were beginning the sessions for Funeral, an album next to which the entire «Elephant 6» scene would look like a bunch of pathetic phonies. (Not really meant as an insult, of course, just to stress how much I personally prefer «substance» over «form»; and the lack of «substance» is one general characteristic that applies to any of the Elephant 6 acts, Neutral Milk Hotel included).