Friday, September 22, 2006


And as the summer rolls along/we know not right from wrong/we improvise from day to day--Rick Moore, 1974

Rick Moore's He Won't Now, Eh? might best be considered "a collected songs" in the sense that, as Moore's brief innersleeve note notes, the songs themselves span twenty years of songwriting, 1973-92, a fact the lyric sheet won't let us overlook as it gives the date of composition for each track. Few, if any, first albums have been so deliberately fashioned as a retrospective -- a decade's worth of music, maybe, but two? -- and that fact gives HWNE more than its share of interest. So on the one hand, we can see how Moore's influences change with the times; while on the other, we can see how bringing this group of songs together at the time (1992) allows them to speak to one another and to offer their respective witnessings to an ongoing process.

"Time may change me, but I can't trace time," David Bowie sang in the early '70s. Tracing time even as it changes him could be said to be Moore's interest; thus we see the music begin with arty pop tunes whose impetus dates from the days when The Beatles ended and Bowie's glamrock briefly became queen, before rock passed on to disco beats and their eventual demise under punk and reggae and the ascendancy, in the early '80s, of New Wave eclecticism, which somehow got drowned in various wall-of-keyboard triumphs and the move to digital, a sonically bland trend that eventually faced a backlash, early '90s, in grunge and alternative roots-rock, then, as we drifted to the end of the century, the major markets were filled with the emergence of slick, pop-sounding country, teeny-bopper divas, and the verbal pyrotechnics and street beats of hip hop.

Listening to HWNE produces some suitably schizophrenic responses, due to the Jekyll-Hyde combo of Moore earlier and Moore later: Jekyll wants to write songs with familiar radio-play sounds ("Over and Under," "No Second Chances" -- I think of Squeeze and The Byrds for the first and maybe Sting on the second); Hyde wants to write songs that are difficult, ironic take-offs ("The Caress," "You Kill Me" -- unpredictable, idiosyncratic songs). The two are able to combine to give us light, melodic songs with a feel of the mellow 70s ("You Threw Me Out," "Mr. Mello"), and even a touch of "heavy" 70s ("Hero"), thoroughly satisfying songs that have the subtle, understated qualities of good contemporary alternative music ("Even Cows Go Blind," "Forever," "Bob"), and topical songs not out of place with the kind of character-driven narratives found in the '80s songs of Don Henley, Elvis Costello, Springsteen ("I Will Return," a powerful song about The Challenger disaster; "Foreign Agent," about "charming" killer Ted Bundy, has the kind of understated irony associated with Ray Davies; "Passé," kind of a "She's Staying Home," an ironic look at the Woodstock generation 20 years on; "Wishing Well,"a darkly comic take on Hansel and Gretel -- more like Zappa, that one).

When I first heard HWNE in 1992, the older stuff sat uneasily next to the newer stuff and the more predictable songs seemed out of place against the stronger songs, but now that time has passed the album holds up for me, in all its eclecticism, much more effectively as a kind of time capsule of twenty years of pop song styles. And why not? I've even found myself listening with renewed interest to tapes of songs I compiled in the late '80s and early '90s -- the grab-bag approach of HWNE helps me see (and hear) how time has changed us all.

There aren't many songwriters who would be so comfortable with such diverse styles and who could do something original each time. The maverick nature of this production should be applauded as well; Moore deserves great credit -- and listeners! -- for putting together such a varied collection on his own. Complex songs, subtle melodies from a challenging, impressive songwriter with something to say. Happy birthday, Rick!

No comments: