My favorite albums are ones that are like the soundtrack to a Broadway musical, but you have to supply the book yourself. The songs all seem to come from a very specific time and place and attitude. Maybe not every song is about the same characters or even sung by the same character, but together they imply a narrative.
What do I hear on this album? A guy in his mid-twenties, still living in his college town. His friends have moved on: they live in whatever city the people from this particular college town head to after graduation, they’ve started their careers. But this guy, he stays. Maybe he stays because he likes it here, or maybe because he’s working on a novel, or maybe because he’s just scared of doing anything else. He works a dead-end job in a factory (“Jackson Cannery”). He attracts women who want to take care of him (“Julianne”) or to change him (“Best Imitation of Myself”). He makes fun of the punks (“Underground”) and preppies (“Sports and Wine”) who surround him, but defensively, as a way to justify his own choices. He nostalgically remembers when his friends were still around, the shifting romances and fun everyday dramas (“Alice Childress,” “Where’s Summer B?”). He nostalgically remembers when he had more ambition, thought he was going to go out and conquer the world just like his absent friends are trying to do (“Philosophy”).
And he tries to figure out what the hell he’s doing with his life (“Video,” “Boxing”). He’s content but isn’t contentment a kind a surrender? Does it matter if it is? He’s lonely but who isn’t? Other people changed, he didn’t: he’s proud of that but what’s the line between sticking to your guns and being stuck? Why should other people get to judge his life anyway, and why does it bother him so much when they do? What if this restlessness and sense of failure never do go away? I’m reminded of the kindred spirit who narrates the first verse of the Bill Morrissey song “These Cold Fingers,” assuring himself that “everything would be all right/if these old dreams would disappear.”
Okay. Not every song fits. But not every song fits in most Broadway musicals, either.