08 February 2008

Adagetude: Clinic, Liars... PB Max?

Murphy, whoever he was, clearly was more opportunist than optimist, somehow getting his name attached to perhaps the most well-known (yet pessimistic) adage under the sun. But what about the lesser-known eponymous laws, the proverbs that lay in semi-anonymity just waiting to be referenced at dinner parties and the like? Buckle up, because it's time you adjusted your adagetude. This week:

Herblock's Law - "If you like it, they will stop making it."

Arrested Development, PB Max, Pepsi Clear, the Unicorns, Freaks and Geeks, where have you all gone? You were cut down in your prime, achieving mythic status in sharp relief to the gaping void left behind. How do you explain yourselves?

Arrested Development (think Ron Howard's voice): Are you kidding me? At best, you were a casual viewer during our three-season death march to cancellation.

Me: Well, if Fox hadn’t changed your time slot every week maybe I could have adjusted accordingly. Remember, this was pre-DVR for me, and I did the best I could. And, who was the first to buy all three seasons on DVD when they came out?

AD: Your roommate.

Me: Right, okay, but who dressed as Tobias Fünke for Halloween two years ago, shivering in the freezing cold in never-nude jean shorts?

AD: You. But would you have even entertained that idea if we were still on the air?

Me: I don’t like your tone…..PB Max, what’s your excuse?

PB Max (think James Earl Jones' voice): Excuse? For what?

Me: We had a beautiful thing, the two of us! I can still close my eyes and see THIS and it all comes back to me...Spending my hard-earned allowance for a fix of your peanut-buttery goodness, getting grounded for sneaking out to get you and ditching dinner. And yet you left me, why?

PBM: Did you ever think the only reason you wanted a hunk of the Max was because you weren’t allowed to have it? AND, don’t you suppose that the valuable lesson here is that forbidden fruit is always sweeter?

Me: You weren’t fruit Max, you had something like 30 grams of fat per serving.

PBM: My point stands.
(end scene)
Ahh forbidden fruit. That which is out of reach, unattainable, or ceases to exist is that which we covet most. What “we” like is what “they” stop making, and vice versa. And while it may seem that the gods always conspire to cancel, cease production, foreclose on, or disband all of that which we hold semi-sacred, is this really a bad thing?

No way Fünke....

When you stop moving forward and simply repeat what's expected of you, things get stale real quick. Take Clinic for example. Had they chosen to remove their scrubs and face masks after their 2000 full-length debut Internal Wrangler and called it quits, that album most likely would be viewed as a modern classic. Taken on its own, it’s an incredible listen, one that creates its own world of pulsing landscapes haunted by ethereally clenched-jaw vocals amidst a reverb and static-soaked atmosphere. After its release, we all breathlessly swooned over the possibilities of what new direction these Liverpool lads would turn for their next album.

What we got with their sophomore offering Walking With Thee was pretty much the EXACT same album. Okay, but surely the third would be different? Nope. Winchester Cathedral and even Visitations still mined the same familiar territory. The cupboard had been stripped bare. In this case, we liked it and they kept making it. And now as a result I can’t even listen to it.

There may be hope though. The group's latest single "Free Not Free" comprises a step - albeit a small and tentative baby step - in a new direction. I can't exactly put my finger on it, but it just feels oh so slightly.....different. In place of that cold metronomic pulse that has defined their entire catalog to this point is a sputtering blast of distortion offset by a relatively lilting and loose beat. Granted, it's small potatoes, and you can still tell its Clinic within the first 15 seconds, but at least it's an attempt to switch up a staid formula. That it's also the advance single from their new album Do It! bodes well for the rest of the record. Is it too much to hope this is only a warning shot, a vague teaser for an album that offers something different? Or will they continue to defy Herblock's Law? Stay tuned, we'll find out on April 8th.

At the far opposite end of this spectrum are Liars. The ONLY thing this LA by way of Berlin by way of Brooklyn band does consistently is hold true to Herblock’s Law. In 2001 the group (alongside the Rapture) essentially gave birth – or at least acted as midwives – to the burgeoning dance punk sound with They Threw Us All in a Trench and Stuck a Monument on Top. Kids from Williamsburg to Silver Lake (and excluding many points in between) collectively creamed themselves over the album and clamored for another heaping dose of the new hot shit.

Then, to everyone’s amazement, Angus Andrew and company returned in 2004 with They Were Wrong, So We Drowned, a complete departure that had as much in common with their debut as Dave Sitek has to Scott Storch. People were outraged, the media outlets exclaimed, “Sadistic is the only way to describe it-- a conscious effort toward slapping away all the little hands clamoring for more of They Threw Us All in a Trench and Stuck a Monument on Top's antagonistic punk-funk,” and you know what happened next? Horrible bands like the Bravery came sniffing around and gleaned the very dregs of the sound Liars had created on their first album. By then, people could have given less of a shit. The Bravery recognized what people had at one time liked and force-fed it to them. Liars simply stopped making it, instead moving forward and releasing two more critically adored albums that have even less in common with each other than the first two. And the beauty is that people keep liking it just as they continue to stop making it (let's just hope Andrew's back holds up for the Warsaw show on Saturday).

Now, to muddy the conversation by injecting another adage into the fray, it’s often said by everyone from sideshow freaks to virginal zealots - think Lyla from Friday Night Lights - that when God (or whoever/whatever your thing is) closes a door, he opens a window.

Example: the Unicorns. I liked it and they stopped making it, disbanding and leaving us all panicked for a spell. Yet, this move that felt catastrophic at the time prompted Nick Diamonds and J’aime Tambour to form another (and almost as kickass) entity, Islands. And now with Tambour quitting Islands, even more opportunities should arise for future collaborations. Dig Diamonds and Tambour’s recent incarnation as Juiced Elfers for proof.

Finally, look at this past summer’s box office and the phenomenal success of Knocked Up and Superbad, both just a few of the products of the creative diasporas resulting from the dissolution of Arrested Development and Freaks and Geeks. So lighten up Herblock, because most times “when they stop making it,” they start making something else worth our while. And even when they don’t, there’s always the chance for a reunion tour. Oh right, did I mention they're making an Arrested Development movie?

"Free Not Free" by Clinic
"Houseclouds" by Liars
"I Was Born (A Unicorn)" by the Unicorns
Adagetude: Chinese Democracy