Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Return of the Friday Night Gods

Imagine a rock group that sounded like Paul Westerberg fronting the E Street Band, or, if you prefer, Bruce Springsteen fronting the Replacements. Imagine how the rock critics would eat that up. Well, that band was Marah, and the rock critics indeed gobbled them up hungrily. Their lyrics were great, and so was the music. Their first album, Let’s Cut the Crap & Hook up Later on Tonight, was very good. Their second, Kids in Philly, was one of the best of 2000, singlehandedly doing for Philadelphia what Springsteen did for New Jersey. Call it alt-country, call it roots rock, call it genre-hopping—it was stunning.

So why haven’t you heard of it? That’s what the Bielanko brothers wanted to know. By the time they started working on Marah’s third album, Float Away with the Friday Night Gods, they and the other guys in the band were tired of writing for rock critics, which is all right, but doesn’t pay the bills. They wanted to sell out. They wanted to be big in Japan (as Stylus put it, the aim was to make “a record that would make teenage Japanese girls go crazy.”) They got their hero Springsteen on board for a cameo guitar solo. They hooked up with Oasis producer Owen Morris, and indeed, lead single “Float Away” was an enormous, gloriously overproduced stadium rocker that out-Oasised Oasis. It was great, actually, but it wasn't Marah.

Critics hated it. Teenage Japanese girls ignored it. Oasis didn’t get too worried about it. Marah’s record company dropped them. Their bid for stardom was an unequivocable failure. What's a band to do?

Marah aren't dummies. They went back to what worked. In 2004, they used their own funds to record and release a fourth album, 20,000 Streets Under the Sky, which picked up right where Kids in Philly left off, and they put out a live album too. And in 2005, they've been busier than the proverbial Japanese beaver, with no less than three releases. If You Didn't Laugh, You'd Cry continues in the same vein and is being hailed by some as their best yet, as being comparable to the works of Springsteen and Bob Dylan. They put out a Christmas album—of all things—called A Christmas Kind of Town. And although it might seem as though the strategy was to pretend that Float Away with the Friday Night Gods never happened, Float Away: Deconstructed represents an apologia for that critically maligned album, using demos and live tracks to present the songs with the production stripped away to reveal the songcraft below. It was there all along, of course.

Let's cut the crap: I'm not going to tell you Marah is necessarily for you. Marah is not for everybody, nor should they be. They already proved that one conclusively. But if you're looking for damn good rock and roll music from a working-class band whose contract rider calls for twelve white tube socks and a tub of hummus, then this is your band. Hook yourself up with some Marah.

4 Comments:

Blogger Steve Ely said...

Your comments are themselves pretty persuasive, and then emusic.com lists the Old 97s under "Similar Artists," so I basically have to get a least one of their albums. If I get just one to start, which would you personally say is the one?

11/25/2005 08:12:00 PM  
Blogger Peter Lynn said...

I haven't had that much time to assimilate the two newest studio albums, so just based on my personal experience, I'll say Kids in Philly. And if you have to narrow your sampling down to one or two songs, you won't be sorry if you go with "Faraway You" or "Round Eye Blues". Enjoy!

11/25/2005 09:46:00 PM  
Blogger Steve Ely said...

Got the album. "Round Eye Blues" is pretty good, but it feels to me like a pale shadow of the far superior "Faraway You." "My Heart Is the Bums on the Street" is also extremely cool.

I'm stil absorbing the rest of the album, along with a bunch of free stuff just downloaded from eMusic, especially Devin Davis, Heartless Bastards, Sufjan Stevens, and Okkervil River, among others. A lot to digest at once.

But "Faraway You" does kick ass.

11/30/2005 04:42:00 PM  
Blogger Peter Lynn said...

It really does. It's all good though. Glad you like it!

11/30/2005 07:20:00 PM  

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