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Favourite Albums — Matthew Good Band’s Underdogs

Thursday, December 6, 2007
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If you’ve read my, as Mr. Beal would call them, ‘wank-fests’ about Matthew Good, then you know that I’m a ‘really big fan’ (if you haven’t, then get to it; this is also where you’ll find all the videos from this album if you want to give them a listen so you’ll know what I’m talking about). You’ll also know that I said I would devote a Favourite Albums post to Underdogs, and so that’s what I’m here to do.

It’s actually not that easy, choosing this one over the others. There are things about Beautiful Midnight and Avalanche to which Underdogs just can’t compare. But, in terms of quality and sentiment together, this one wins hands down.

Although, ironically, it’s got the worst opening song of any of the albums (well, second-worst if you count Alabama Motel Room from Last of the Ghetto Astronauts, which I decided not to do because that wasn’t a major-label release; don’t ask if that logic makes any sense — just go with it). Don’t get me wrong — Deep Six isn’t a bad song; it’s just the worst when compared to the more anthemic openers of the later albums such as Giant, Man of Action and Champions of Nothing, and it even doesn’t compare somehow as an ‘opener’ to the subdued, measured tone of Pledge of Allegiance, or the scratchiness of Put Out Your Lights. Maybe because those latter two songs so perfectly introduce the overall sound and atmosphere of their respective albums, while Deep Six is just a somewhat typical, angry rock song; or maybe it’s because it was written as a response to some rant or another by one of the Gallagher brothers — hence the lyric ‘I don’t know/pretend to know/I don’t know where you think you are’ — which I think is a little lame (I’m a not a big fan of pop-culture commentary in one’s personal art — I feel it cheapens it).

Afterwards things really get going though. Everything Is Automatic is a perfectly constructed little piece of four-chord (at least, in the verses) rock-rant that is still satisfying, both lyrically and musically. Then comes Apparitions, Matt at this point still following standard rules of Rock-and-Roll Album Construction by putting a slow song in the number three spot (actually, he does the same thing on most of his albums). I’m not complaining — this is a classic song, and in a way it’s both nice to hear it early and good to get it out of the way, since by ‘classic’ I mean ‘slightly overplayed.’ But not to the point of bother; indeed, I still enjoy it as much now as ten years ago.

It’s after this that the songs start to come in sets; the first one could be called something like the ‘Gen-X’ set: My Out of Sytle is Coming Back & The Strangest One of All both rif off of themes of ‘Slacker Cool’ and ‘Slacker Malaise.’ To wit:

I tried but it failed me like
everything that’s cool is cold in my skull
I tried but it failed me
living only to die dumb

My out of style is coming back
I’m bored but I’m excited
Our out of style is coming back

I’m bored and I’m crooked like everybody.

And:

High fidelity lovers
in a low-fi land care facility
Where they own the name I am

Melted down, she pulls the strings
I move and wham
barely new and we’re cooler than, cooler than

So bad, I kind of felt I was to blame
so glad you heard the strangest one of all

Next up is the ‘Make Fun Of White Guys Who Think They’re Thugs’ set. The first of these songs, Middle Class Gangsters, has a pretty self-explanatory title, so I won’t go into that one, and the second one, Rico, was actually a single from the album, and the only video I didn’t post in my wank-fests, so why don’t you just listen to it now and see for yourself:

Matt has since said that he hates this song, and it’s definitely not up there with the best on the album, but it’s not awful. And I actually think the video is kind of funny (though I do see why he now considers it lame — anything where you self-consciously make fun of your self-conscious celebrity is bound to end up being cheesy once you grow out of said self-consciousness or celebrity).

And then, suddenly, it gets serious. As in, Epic Set. It’s actually kind of strange; Prime Time Deliverance feels like one of those eight minute long prog-rock numbers, but it only clocks in at around 5:30; it’s more like a poem, actually, telling (again) a typically Gen-X pair of stories about drugs, hookers, the CIA and the wasting away of a people through the trappings of mass media and substance abuse. While the lyrics are somewhat corny, musically this song is extremely strong, and Matt sings it with such strength and dedication that you end up falling for it. And then it dies down and drifts softly into what I regard as his forgotten masterpiece.

I have never heard Matt, or anyone else, talk about or even refer to The Inescapable Us, and by this I am completely baffled. It is by far one of his best ever songs, even stronger in my opinion than his ‘best song ever’ Apparitions.

The day I met you
decay will let you learn to bend
We are better butterflies
all meek we get the end

It makes me sick
It makes me laugh when I shouldn’t,
Kill what I came
To keep alive

…Your turn to spill
Your turn to spill now

That’s fate looking our way
Your sparkling spot hasn’t caught on
That’s fate stealing away
Your sparkling spot hasn’t caugh on

The day we met up
It’s hard to get up and live it down
We are smaller maybe than what we
can’t get around

It makes me sick
it makes me laugh
when I look at you
Clap while it’s kicking us around

And what it spills
And what it spills is

Fate looking our way
Your sparkling spot hasn’t caught on
That’s fate stealing away
Your sparkling spot hasn’t caught on

I know that simply posting the lyrics is not going to do this song a lot of justice, but just try to picture a backdrop of slightly droning and warping electric guitar amidst a sea of dark trees, with an acoustic front and centre playing a steady rhythm in (what I’m pretty sure is) a minor key, and Matt actually somewhat restrained, singing with lost intentions and regret in his voice. It is a delicate invocation of pain and loss, pure and simple, and I don’t know why it doesn’t seem to get the recognition it deserves.

And then we’re suddenly Rocking Out again. Indestructible comes in and kicks your ass, followed by what is, unfortunately, my least favourite song on the album, Invasion 1. This is ironic because it’s actually Matt’s favourite song on the album (or, at least it was at one point); I’m not sure why — it’s nothing more than an ode to ’80s X-mas TV specials:

Dropped off the face of the earth
Bobby is my hero for that

Down a hole with
the Grinch’s antler dog and Yukon Cornelius
When I’m sober I need this

Whatever that means. The penultimate song used to be my fave MGB of all time; it’s fallen a bit from that place but it’s still up there. Look Happy, It’s the End of the World is simply a straight-ahead, kick-ass rocker, so I’m not sure why I like it so much — maybe because it follows Invasion 1 and so seems that much better in comparison, or maybe because Matt used to be pretty inscrutable and this song seemed very honest:

Meet me and I’ll spill my guts
Cause I’m open to anything
I’m open for the first time
you can count the years

Hoping is out of style
So look happy
It’s the end of the world

And now it draws to a close; again following the rules of Rock-and-Roll Album Construction, we get, as the finale, a true epic, both musically and lyrically. Change of Season just feels important; all this stuff about begging forgiveness and seeing weakness bright as day and feeling hopeless — plus a kick-ass guitar solo, which you don’t get much of nowadays, and so further adds to the ‘epic’ tag.

If they made me crawl would you love me then
If I was small would it be okay
Well I can see the need in everyone
A change of season

I feel like I’m losing for money
I feel like i’m losing for free
I feel older than the
dead angel on my shoulder claims to be

I feel like we’re drinking and driving
I feel like we’re running into walls
I feel like swimming in your apathy
as a kind of parody

For miles and miles and miles
I feel like somebody’s missing
I think that somebody’s missing.

It’s the perfect ending to what is really a somewhat schizophrenic album; one that only partially takes itself seriously, jumping from sarcastic pop-culture referencing and critique to quiet (well, not quiet, exactly) contemplation. I think Matt was torn at this point between wanting to maintain a sort of alt-rock cred and wanting to be important — he walks the line but, I think, succeeds. Plus, it sold like mad, flowed seamlessly into Beautiful Midnight, and is still listenable ten years later. Can’t ask for much more than that. 03971semajsmubla

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. Sunday, December 16, 2007 11:35 pm

    I don’t think I’d use a term like “wank-fest”. First of all, the “fest” suffix has run its course, but more importantly, “wank” is way, way too tame for my tastes.

  2. Eric permalink
    Friday, February 22, 2008 4:47 am

    This album is an absolute ten. Personally, Deep Six is one of my favorite openers. It sets the mood for the album perfectly. This record perfectly balances straight ahead alt rock with Matt’s emerging atmospheric sound.

    Invasion1 is actually my favorite Matt Good song, especially if you put it together with Look Happy (which I think you’re supposed to). I just don’t have enough good things to say about this album.

    Corny lyrics in places? Certainly. But kick ass nonetheless. Half of these songs would be hits if they came out now. This guy just knows how to write a rock song.

  3. Kaitlyn permalink
    Tuesday, June 3, 2008 8:07 pm

    I can’t believe I’ve finally found someone who recognizes how underrated ‘The Inescapable Us’ is. I haven’t heard anyone else mention it before and no one’s made a video for it (not even an amv. Although, I’m hoping it doesn’t come to that).

    The lyrics are so strong and full of emotion; very honest, and the way he’s put together the musical arrangements is just mystifying. Every time I hear it, it’s like being taken to another place. Also, very easy to relate to. The song can fit with a lot of scenarios. Basically, if you’ve ever watched situation run itself into the ground and you try to save it, but you just make things worse, then you’ve been there.
    Thanks for an awesome review. Although, I think I might have to disagree with the album choice. The future is X-rated, Time Bomb, Load Me Up, The Rorschach Test, I Miss New Wave, actually, never mind. I’d name the whole album. But I think Beautiful Midnight makes #1 for me. But Underdogs is still a ten for me and is definitely 2nd on my list.

  4. Paul permalink
    Tuesday, February 10, 2009 3:35 am

    Hey, this is a pretty good summation of the album, but I think you’re wrong about Invasion 1 when you say that “it’s nothing more than an ode to ’80s X-mas TV specials.”

    I think it’s a song about all of our diversions, and the way that they don’t rescue us from our problems or thoughts or whatever, and in the midst of all of that there’s this sad nostalgia glowing like a neon ember.

    “Dropped off the face of the earth, Bobby is my hero for that” is my favourite all-time Matt Good line. Who can’t relate to Matt’s desire to pick up and leave it all behind like Bobby Fischer?

    It’s hard to explain why I think this song is so good, but it grabs me deep in my gut every single time I hear it. There’s an urgent, sad, and nostalgic quality to it that kills me. I think you should really revisit it.

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