'Back when I was 8, I'd sit outside on an old milk crate and look out at the world from the sloop across the street. The boom boxes and the hot concrete, and every Halloween they hung a million rubber skeletons across ninth street'.
I'm glad there are people like Jeffrey Lewis around.
The title of this album tells you a certain amount, as do the sleeve notes which inform you that the album contains 'all nine guitar chords that proved so popular on the 2001 album, with two additional bonus chords: B Minor and G with the G string held down instead of the E string'. Honest to the point of brutality, self-deprecating and just a little bit eccentric.
Okay, scrub the 'just a little bit' from that sentence. This is Jeffrey's second album, following the equally attention-grabbingly monnikered 'The Last Time I Did Acid I Went Insane'. It begins with his life story from the ages of 4 to 128 and, as it continues, Jeff shares his philosophy with us. It is all presented in his own utterly idiosyncratic manner: Jeff bemoans his problems with LSD-peddling fans; warns of the perils of success ('don't let showmanship get more important than honesty'); sings of the apocalypse on three separate occasions (at least one of these events involves a giant factory made out of toothpicks and a 'Dukes Of Hazard' lunchbox); considers the evil that money brings and the nature of his identity, performs the odd naughtical lullaby - the list goes on, and none of what I say will do him justice.
Sometimes, the tone is cynical -' Don't let the record label take you out to lunch, cos every sip of soup is going to get re-couped' sometimes whimsical, sometimes warm - 'When you feel ugly and petty/Awkward and unsteady/ Just try not to forget there were so many people that liked you'. Always, it is engaging.
Musically, Jeff gets tagged with the 'anti-folk' label rather a lot. Anti-folk being (very vaguely) the result of a group of artists from New York getting bored of the folk-music scene there and experimenting both musically and lyrically (I could explain that in more detail, but not right now). It isn't a bad description of where he's coming from, essentially meaning 'folk and whatever the hell else I choose to do'. So, in with tradtional accoustic guitar numbers such as 'Back When I Was..' and 'Alphabet' are the spiky 'No LSD Tonight' and 'Texas'; the utterly unhinged 'If You Shoot The Head You Kill The Ghoul' and 'Graveyard'; the beautifully gentle 'Sea Song' and the backwards chords of 'Zaster'. This prevents the album from ever seeming predictable (musically, that is - lyrically it could never be so) and shows that Jeff's diversity is not confined to his subject matter.
Often, when you're trying to write a review, there's a temptation to over-use certain adjectives - certain words seem to encapsulate the album better than a whole page of blurb. The one I'm finding myself drawn to here is 'beautiful'. It is a dramatic over-simplification, of course - some of the more manic songs would be better described as beautifully odd or funny. Added to which, there are some people who won't find this record beautiful at all. If your music has to be loud, luvvd-up, or complete with a drumbeat, you'll be utterly bemused by this. If, however, you're the sort of person who ENJOYS being bemused, identifies when an artist expresses confusion and uncertainty, and appreciates that a fragile voice can carry far more emotion than a pefectly pitched warble, then I recommend this to you unreservedly. It'll lull you one minute, amuse you the next and make you slightly moist around the edges of the eyes after that. And even if you haven't been everywhere Jeff has been, the whole thing is presented with such integrity, honesty and sensitive self-awareness that you can't help but share his point of view and appreciate his humour.
Jeffrey Lewis is precisely the sort of person we should be writing about on this web-site. I'll nominate him now as a Hero of the Friends Of The Heroes and will doubtless be wittling on about him again before very long, after I've played this a few more times. Hell - the guy even wrote us a Halloween lyric, without knowing we needed one. Not even Wonderwoman could do THAT! Although I'm not sure how good Jeffrey Lewis would look in gold lame and satin tights.
About that, we can only speculate.
FRIENDS OF THE HEROS