The summer before I moved to Minneapolis (or even knew I was going to) I listened to a lot of Janet Jackson and Prince. It didn't occur to me until later is that maybe the Minnesota origins of those artists was subconsciously influencing me to relocate.
Since the move, I've had an unerring devotion to music that's made in Minnesota. I have savored the music of The Jayhawks, Replacements, Semisonic, and especially Prince with a strong sense of civic pride. (It's sort of like the sports teams. I grew up in a city with no pro sports teams, so the fact that we have the Twins, Vikings, Wild, and Timberwolves right here in the city is wonderful.)
And though I've followed a few lesser-known local bands, I haven't given in to every single group. For example, Husker Du's brilliance still escapes me, and I only sort of like Bob Dylan and Soul Asylum. And before I listened to 10,000 Years, I would have lumped The Honeydogs in that same forgettable category.
I never cared much for the band. They seemed inoffensive enough, but had no hook for me. They were just your usual alt-country bar band with a half-catchy/half-annoying hit (I Miss You). Even after I saw them hanging out in the Electric Fetus (a local record store) parking lot after an in-store performance I was still uninterested. (Funny sidebar: It was a snowy night when I saw them, and all I heard of their conversation was the lead singer remarking "Drive safe!" to the others. How un-rock 'n' roll is that?!)
Fast forward to the present. When I heard that they'd somehow enlisted reclusive former-Jellyfish singer/drummer/songwriter Andy Sturmer to sing on their newest album, my interest was finally piqued. Then I read that in addition to that, Michael Penn also participates, and the whole affair was produced by John Fields, who brought such quality control to Mandy Moore's Coverage album. So I gave in.
10,000 Years is a concept album about war, religion, and people who are disillusioned with governement and society and life. (It's a shame that the topics couldn't be more timely, but I can overlook that.) The science fiction mumbo jumbo in the introduction in the liner notes indicates that the album takes place in a dystopian future.
If that concerns you, I completely understand. Ask Pete Townsend and Prince (or don't): Rock Operas only work if the songs have the ability to stand on their own. The best concept albums have little connections here and there, repeated lines or themes, but aren't slaves to the concept. Such is the case here.
Overall, this album just a big surprise. When you have little or no expectations it's easy to be surprised, but I'm guessing that the lyrical and musical growth represented here is a shock to even the band's biggest fans. Beyond the dense, image-filled lyrics are wonderful, memorable melodies. In fact, I defy you to listen to the title track and not be singing it for the rest of the day.
Any trace of a bland alt-country is completely gone from the band's sound. Though overall rooted in Beatley power-pop, there are tons of stylistic shifts throughout the record. Witness the jazzy jam-rock of Poor Little Sugar, the '20s swing of Were The Heavens Standing Blindly? (as effective an anti-war song as one might ask for), the '60s lounge pop of 23rd Chromosome, and the Sgt.Pepper/White Album mini-epic Last War Lullaby.
The last thing to love about this album is strictly personal for me and brings us full circle. It's undoubtedly a product of Minnesota, from the Powderhorn Park shout-out in Test Tube Kid to the mural that appears on the cover to the dedication to Senator Paul Wellstone. That an album as good as 10,000 Years was made here in the land of 10,000 lakes is something to be truly proud of.
Fave Song: 10,000 Years