Sunday, March 12, 2006

101. Rhett Miller - The Instigator (2002)

My friend Eliza rolls her eyes everytime I mention that I'm interested in a movie because I have enjoyed past work by the same writer or director. She thinks that this is information the average person probably shouldn't have. But when you're a media junkie, there has to be some sort of filtration system on what you allow yourself to experience.

Pop music connesieurs also use this method, but often it's the producer we look to. We pay attention to this stuff. For example, I would have never bought Rhett Miller's first album if it weren't produced by Jon Brion.

Brion has an impressive resume. He worked briefly with Jellyfish in the early '90s, then went on to make one album with Jason Faulkner, as The Greys. His profile grew as he wrote and produced work with Aimee Mann and Fiona Apple. He has also produced music for films such as Magnolia, Punch Drunk Love and I Heart Huckabees. In 2000 he put out an excellent solo album called Meaningless. This past year he gained acclaim for working on Kanye West's second album, Late Registration.

Being that I've enjoyed a large percentage of his work in the past, it's a no-brainer that my interest will at least be piqued by his involvement in a project. Brion plays, sings, produces, and co-writes on The Instigator. He aslo brings an ornate pop sensibility that suits Miller well in some places, but sinks him in others.

Turns out what Miller does best is the galloping joyous love song, and he knows it. The album's best song is This Is What I Do, a statement of purpose. Miller tells us about some of his past loves, and how he's going to write songs about them. And then he does. The album's standouts are Our Love, Four-Eyed Girl, Hover, and I Want To Live, all odes to that feeling of happiness that only romance can bring.

It's worth mentioning that Miller is a clever-couplet lyricist, throwing out memorable lines wherever he can. On Four-Eyed Girl, which will speak to any man who likes his girls myopic, he introduces the premise thusly: "Two of us / at a / double feature / I'm a rock 'n' roller / she's a / science teacher." In Hover he claims that "the city is dark / but we're not scared / wrapped up in each other / makin' lovin' out of nothing / like those Air Suppliers said."

Other songs fall lower on the quality scale. The El is strangely akin to the Bee Gees' Night Fever, in the way the percussion drives the song. The song sounds like a train, but it doesn't accomplish much else. Come Around is a blue break-up ballad, but not the kind that makes you feel better about your heartache. The Jon Brion co-written Things That Disappear is catchy but lyrically inpenetrable, and the closer Terrible Vision features lovely harmonies but dour sentiment.

Unfortunately anytime Miller tries a slow song, things grind to a screeching halt. These songs are forgettable at best, and boring at worst. Turns out even the best producer can't turn straw into gold.

Grade: B-
Fave Song: This Is What I Do

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