Friday, April 20, 2007

Take back your apology.

I was disappointed when I read this recently on Wheat's new MySpace page:

WHEAT looked all set for mainstream but unusually uncompromised success [after their second album, 1999's Hope and Adams]. As so often happens, however, fate (or perhaps poor management) conspired against them: the band was advised to leave their European label in favour of another that, unbeknownst to them, was about to fold. Mere days after the deal was signed news reached them that their album was now an asset of a company that had gone out of business. Dense legal battles followed, and though the band emerged intact over a year later to sign with Aware/Sony, the record—the typically cryptically titled PER SECOND, PER SECOND, PER SECOND … EVERY SECOND—had not emerged so unscathed. Instead it had been remixed and in places re-recorded, largely at the label’s behest, and was consequently rendered comparatively lifeless (although it still went on to sell 30,000 copies in the US).

In the end—fortunately, some might argue—it was never released outside of North America.... 'We couldn't do the monkey suits and the handshakes well at all,' [drummer Brendan] Harney explains.... 'It didn't work out 'cause it was a completely fucked-up fit. Scott and I started WHEAT as an art project, and the second we let other people's opinions slip in is when it started to come apart. We needed to walk away from the whole thing. The things we loved, the art of what we did, the control of what we were about seemed to be slipping, so we had to jump.'

I read an interview with Martin Short in Premiere in 2005 in which he was pretty much prompted by the interviewer, Brantley Bardin, to make fun of movies he's done that are generally considered to be bad, like 1992's Captain Ron. Short wouldn't do it. Bardin called Captain Ron the Patch Adams of Short's career, but the actor responded, "Can I tell you that both Kurt Russell and I have talked about how passionately people come up and say how much they love Captain Ron? ... That's why it's very important for people in show business to never, ever comment on what they've done—it diminishes people's take on it. You must always sit back and just say, 'Fantastic. Thank you.'"

Damn right, Martin! Because when I see Wheat dismissing and apologizing for an album that I absolutely love, it pisses me off a bit. It's like when you think you've made a strong connection with some girl who stops talking to you a few weeks later. Wheat might as well include a cover of "What a Fool Believes" on their next album. They don't feature any songs from Per Second, Per Second, Per Second ... Every Second on their MySpace page, which confirms to me how much they want to distance themselves from it.

Oh well, your loss, Wheat. You may be proud of your origins as an "art project," but radio-friendly, heavens-parting pop songs that can stand the test of time are art too (as you said yourselves on "These Are Things," one of my favorites from Per Second, "Sometimes I could use a little shove").

I bet a lot of people in the audience on your next tour became fans because of
Per Second; you may be surprised how much that album's reputation has grown since its release three and a half years ago. (I'll admit I have nothing to back up that claim, but I'm not the only person in this world who appreciates romantic pop music that won't leave your head for months on end.) So be a pal and play some songs from Per Second on the tour to support your upcoming LP. Rearrange them if you want, but play them. Your days of apologizing for one of my favorite albums of the past ten years should end now.

9 comments:

  1. Agreed 100%, Robert. I used to hate seeing a friend perform, telling them how much I enjoyed their performance, and hearing them say "oh, I was terrible tonight." Suddenly, I'm questioning my own taste. Was I not astute enough to know they were horrible?

    Frequently, when an artist is releasing a new album, they make a comment like "this album is so much better than the last one." It makes me wonder if everything they said about the LAST album at the time was a lie, and if so, why should I believe them now?

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  2. Yeah, lying for the sake of promoting the album or movie or whatever is a given (and Wheat certainly lied through their teeth in 2003 when "Per Second" came out, as evidenced by old interviews I found online), but it does make it hard for you to trust the person doing the promoting the next time around.

    This deserves a follow-up post. I often "publish" these posts before I've really finished them, partly to force myself to finish them once they're out there for anyone to see.

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  3. hear hear, Robert. What a great album. I thought John Fields did great things with it. I wouldn't have known this if you hadn't told me, so thank you. Thanks for reading, keep telling people about great music.

    Godspeed.

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  4. Michael Cass4/21/07, 3:37 PM

    Amen, brother. I can sympathize with feeling sometimes that one's art has been watered down by commerce, but they should follow Martin Short's path. It's an excellent album to my ears.

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  5. a friend's related post:
    http://tinyurl.com/create.php

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  6. My bad.

    Here it is:
    http://tinyurl.com/2aeakk

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  7. Thanks for that, Mary. I do wonder how someone like Evan Dando would feel if wounded soldiers told HIM that their favorite Lemonheads song is "Mrs. Robinson."

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  8. Oh man, how dead on! I bought the first two Wheat albums based solely on seeing them live. I thought they were kinda like, guess what? Someone's art project! Then I picked up Per Second and it has to be one of my favorite albums ever; I didn't miss the randomized bleeps and bloops one bit. Over time, and lots of car trips, I came to really like the first two albums a lot, but Per Second is great. Too bad they don't think so. Just quit yer bitchin, nod your head, and accept that you made something people dig. Glad you feel the same way.

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  9. You should look at the comments on their MySpace page, Fudgy. I asked Wheat why their PR from last year chalked up "Per Second" as a mistake, but they said, "No, we love those songs too." Maybe time (which they write about quite a bit in their songs) has helped them see the album as something to be proud of, even if the experience left them somewhat bitter. (Or maybe they're just putting a spin on the PR as more and more people tell them how much they love "Per Second.")

    I don't think you need to be miserable or make others miserable in order to merge art and commerce, but it can be hard to the misery behind you. Maybe their next album will be more like "Per Second," though I doubt it. But I do think being on a major label pushed Wheat out of their comfort zone, and in the long run it helped them tremendously.

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