October 29, 2002

My review of Slippage, or, How I Learned to be Indie



New West Records

The honest truth is that I brought Slobberbone's Slippage home because no one in the office was going to give it a listen, because Slobberbone is, in the scheme of things, an unfortunately amusing name for a band, and because, in my own mind at least, lead singer Brent Best looks enough like Jack Black that his songs might be funny. This is the honest truth.

Let none of this suggest that my reasons for reviewing Slippage weren't bad ones, not to say vindictive, uninformed ones. I haven't reviewed an album in these pages since the naive, eager version of me brought home Adam Sandler's third release, Stan and Judy's Kid, and cavalierly mocked the self-sacrificially obscure crowd of music types who frequented the MAROON office. I missed the Indie Rock bus. Mark that: October 1999.

All of this is true and documented. I still have Stan and Judy in a box in my room.

So it goes. I try to ignore knee-jerk impressions when I put things into my CD player these days, if only because Adam Sandler's reputation (as my 1999 self understood it) did not suffice to justify his third album. So it was Slippage, with a clean slate, whether Slobberbone deserved one or not.

Unless every bone in my body is lying to me, Slobberbone is a not-so-graduated college band. From a state school, maybe. Now that I think of it, Slobberbone was probably a real hit wherever they attended college. They play rock music like they drink beer: cheaply, often, and for no reason other than they heard that it was cool.

They were right about both beer and rock music, incidentally, and that cannot be forgotten when appraising their album. The straight-ahead repetitive chords and throaty singing voices undeniably set them above, you know, songs that hurt the ears. Someone could put this album on the stereo at a sufficiently loud party and only the most musically pushy attendees would bother to complain. It's fine.

But it's upsetting to see that they aren't trying. The lyrics are rife with clichés of the sort original enough to escape the attention of slacker college bands and not original enough to avoid grating on everyone else. "Stupid Words" is full of this kind of thing ("If I could get behind those eyes somehow/I'd see what you see/Wonder what I'd find"). So are "To Love Somebody" ("There's a light/It's a certain kind of light/It never shines on me") and "Live On In the Dark" ("Too much daylight can seem like an oddity/And devotion is a commodity"). I can't fairly recommend any one of these songs over another. Bottom line: it isn't worth exploring.

Meanwhile, the bass lines and chord progressions of these songs run together enough that it's difficult to discern when a new song begins. That criticism of bands with catchy songs gets bandied about, I realize, but the Strokes wouldn't make the same kinds of mistakes. Neither would Nickelback. Well, Nickelback would probably make those mistakes. Maybe that is what New West Records was trying to create-another Nickelback. God help us all.

All this context is clouding the issue. We were looking at Slobberbone with a clean slate. Here's the clean-slate take: this band has no angle. Three-minute rock songs with two verses about losing a girlfriend—that's high school poetry, not college student entertainment. Slobberbone needs to turn that screw a few more times, meet with a B.A. adviser instead of a guidance counselor, get a little more life experience, something. No one who wants to party with the MAROON staff gets to listen Slobberbone, unless they are prepared to lie about it.

Frankly, this is a little humiliating. Everyone else who puts ink into Voices does so in the service of such bands as Pavement, the New Pornographers, the White Stripes, and company. My legacy consists of Slobberbone and Adam Sandler. And really, there is no sense distinguishing between the two. Sandler, despite turning (juvenile) heads with his talking goat and with Tollbooth Willie, revealed those back-of-the-classroom gags for what they had been all along when he authored "Dee Wee (My Friend the Massive Idiot)" and some of the other asinine tracks on Stan and Judy. Slobberbone got started a few years later in their lives, having already drawn the shades on that small window of hope that they were madcap geniuses, the window that Sandler pressed his face against briefly before slinking onward.

Ah, it's late. Slobberbone is a stretch mark on my Indie Rock growth spurt. Slobberbone is a band that made an album no one else wanted to review. Slobberbone, if nothing else, is a band with a lead singer who still looks a little like Jack Black.