Once the Breakup Society settled on “So Much Unhappiness, So Little Time…” as the title for their third Get Hip release, the challenge then became to take the gallows humor it suggested and subvert it with a title track whose message placed it closer to the spirit of the psychedelic ’60s.
“Only you can leave your tears behind,” as Ed Masley suggests at the end of the opening verse just as producer Bob Hoag, back for round three, underscores the moment with a wall of harmonies that tell you everything you need to know about his feelings for “Revolver.”
Which is not to say they’ve turned their back completely on the gallows.
That’s not safe now, is it?
The prevailing mood, though, is more bittersweet than dark, from “Another Day in the Life,” where an aging groupie adjusts to the life at the back of the line, to “The Next Reunion,” where a struggling actor worries that the kids he went to high school with are all lying in wait to watch him fail.
In “The Upward Spiral,” an alcoholic’s girlfriend sobers up and dumps him, saying she’ll come back when he gets clean. Instead, he shacks up in a cheap motel with a chick who looks just like her in the dim light when he’s had enough to drink. Other subjects tackled range from war and politics (“He’s Supporting the War”) to sexploitation (“Here Comes Floyd”) and people reading too much into lyrics (“Mary Shelley”).
Masley wrote the words to all but one song, a collaboration via Garageband and e-mail with John Wesley Harding called “The Way We Weren’t.” Those particular lyrics were written by Harding, who included his own version of that song on his new album, backed by Peter Buck, a handful of Decemberists and Scott McCaughey (who appeared on the previous Breakup Society album, “Nobody Likes a Winner”).
Musically, this album finds the Arizona rockers weeding out the chugging, post-Ramones guitar that played such a prominent role on “James at 35” and “Winner” in favor of a sound they hoped you’d find more timeless. There’s still plenty of guitar, though, much of it loud and distorted, from the reckless power-chord attack of “Here Comes Floyd” to psychedelic splendor of “She Doesn’t Cross Against the Light” and the majestic guitar pop of “Your Invitation to Quit.” “The Way We Weren’t” is a melancholy ballad with aching vocals, chiming lead guitar and Mellotron, while “Mary Shelley” is their first waltz and the title track their first song using only seventh chords. As for the songs that sound like they were written on piano (“Supportin’ the War” and “Another Day in the Life”), those are the first songs Masley’s written on piano.
Despite those departures, it sounds like the Breakup Society.
Because that’s who they are.