Hum: You’d Prefer An Astronaut

youdpreferanastronautWhen I first encountered this album I dismissed it out of hand. It had a silly name and the cover art of an off-center zebra against a green background did not appeal to my hard rock sensibilities. But I’ve become less rigorous in judging musical books by their cover in the meantime, and over the years I kept hearing just how revered and loved this album was.  There were times when I felt that not only was I the only person who never heard this album, but I was the only one who didn’t also love it as one of the greatest albums of the 90’s.

So it’s against that backdrop of sky-high expectations that I finally come to spend some time with this disc and end up mostly, but not completely, disappointed. I’m actually surprised it’s so revered; a slacker mishmash of the tropes of early- and mid-90’s instrumentation, it comes off as a meek, monotone version of Bush. That sounds harsh, as Bush could do with some more meekness, but my point is that, apart from some nice compositional structure on most songs and some well-written sections of songs throughout the album, the band isn’t so far away from everything else that was being done at the time.

So, in retrospect, it shouldn’t be surprising that it’s so well-loved because it’s pretty much right in the zeitgeist for the time, with its loud-soft verse/choruses and crunchy-glow guitar sound a la Smashing Pumpkins.  I guess I was expecting more given that it had a narrow but deep appeal, a description I would apply to many of my favorite artists.

So while it’s not too much highbrow that caused this to go over most people’s heads, it’s pretty quickly apparent why this band didn’t garner tons of fans. The singing style is weak, monotone, off-key, back in the mix, with constant Eeyore-like moping. There’s nothing necessarily wrong with that, but it’s not for me (at least at this point in my life), and it’s not a style that has a broad appeal. Things start to make a little more sense, too, when you search around for lovers of this album on the Internet and you come to find that it’s mostly loved by males who bonded with it in high school, I’m sure while despairing about their place in the world and (mostly) girls. I’d probably like it a lot more had I heard it in some of those dark moments of self-doubt as well.

I’m coming to this right after Deep Six and one very striking aspect of it is that the sound, despite coming out a decade later, is worse. It’s like it’s compressed for the loudness wars, with little dynamic variability, while also being more quiet, muffled, lo-fi.

It’s a decent album, shining in some parts, but too much mopiness makes it a bit of a drag, especially for a really tough slog in the middle and then for the last song. It’s definitely a let down from the hype that had been built up around it. I tried to keep the disappointment aspect out of the final rating, but I may have overcompensated by a half-clown.

Rating:
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– “The Pod”
– “Little Dipper,” “Stars,” “I’d Like Your Hair Long,” “I Hate It Too”
– “Suicide Machine,” “The Very Old Man,” “Why I Like The Robins,” “Songs Of Farewell And Departure”
Song Notes: After the jump

  1. Little Dipper – Good, but innocuous start to the disc. I wouldn’t be able to sing this for you if I wasn’t listening to it.
  2. The Pod – My fave? Would probably be full if it had a more dynamic sound.
  3. Stars – Oh those lyrics seem familiar. I’ve definitely heard this before, though the tune isn’t ringing any bells. That part of the chorus where the guitar goes way up high gets really played really quickly. Then at about 4:00 there’s a chug-a-chug part that is kind of cool but also seems right out of the 1993 playbook. Consensus seems to be this song is AWESOME, but I think it’s merely okay. Like, if you hadn’t caught on to the whole jangle followed by huge rock chord yet, this got you. But it’s one of a hundred that do that. There’s definitely a Smashing Pumpkins sound going on in the guitars on this one.
  4. Suicide Machine – do not like that title.  eeyore. The nasal mopey thing is too much. I like the build at the end with about a minute left, but it’s a six minute song, so that just isn’t enough to keep it open-hearted. Good lyrics.
  5. The Very Old Man – This is really boring and sad. More boring than bad.
  6. Why I Like The Robins – Mewl mewl mewl. Good lyrics, but just delivered in such a silly way. There’s just nothing interesting about the music except for the bridge, which almost keeps it at an open heart.
  7. I’d Like Your Hair Long – “you’d prefer an astronaut”. The riffs in this one are pretty sweet.
  8. I Hate It Too – Good, but some early song meandering keeps it at open.
  9. Songs Of Farewell And Departure – I like parts of this, but really his voice is just a sad trombone going bwah bwah bwah. And it just drags on way too long for no apparent reason. Again, great lyrics.
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