Retrofit Digest: Amy Rigby’s “Knapsack”

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A voice, an acoustic  guitar and that crushing instant when one glimpse is enough to fill your head with blossoms, interlocking fingers, the brush of new lips against yours.

He took my knapsack just inside the revolving door. . .wasn’t looking for anything more than a book/But I looked/Isn’t that what eyes are for?

The opening bars of  “Knapsack,”from Amy Rigby’s brilliant 1996 album Diary of a Mod Housewife, presents a haze of micro-details. Biographies, magazines, the casual glance in his direction, the yearning.

Something about him made me feel seventeen — stop/So I’m not/Isn’t that what life is for?

Yes, and music is for kneading the words and melodies into a performance that projects far beyond the realm of anything that can be expressed in letters or musical notation. It’s not in the airy inversions of the guitar chords or the taut, almost angry way she attacks the strings. It’s not simply a question of the intensity in her voice, and the occasional cracks that make her vulnerability so clear.

It’s in all those things, and way beyond them, too. For while the song’s physical structure — the rhythm, the easy chords, the declarative melody and Rigby’s vocal pitch — are clockwork, the thing feels like it’s  reeling out of control.

Now every day I can’t wait to see him/Gonna ask his name/But every day I just hand him my bag and/Everything remains the same…

For all her yearning, for all her hard-wired need to feel the thrall of love; to be swept up in that adolescent whirlpool of sensation, she can’t let herself do it. She imagines what she’d say to convince him of her appeal —  Hey, listen man/I got a band, I understand what life is for –but she’s really lobbying herself. And losing the debate. He smiles at her but she can’t look into his eyes. She loses one job, lands another in another corner of town; she knows it’s all over, well before she had the courage to let it start.

I’ll think about him when I’m in my bed at night/Deep in my sleep/Isn’t that what dreams are for?

But she can’t stop playing those chords, can’t stop remembering that vision, and that feeling.

He took my knapsack/He took my knapsack/He took my knapsack…

Good Thing: Paul Westerberg’s ‘World Class Fad’

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I’m the one you trust in/the world owes you nothin/you really, really want it that bad/you gotta come get it…round the corner, give it some gas…

And so began Paul Westerberg’s solo career, with the ’14 Songs’ album and its lead-off single, “World Class Fad.” Turned out he really, really didn’t want it that bad after all. But in 1993 anything seemed possible.

Spin identified him as the living spirit of rock ‘n’ roll. He got a top-notch producer (Matt Wallace) and cranked out an album’s worth of tightly-written rock songs that were, finally, radio friendly. He hit the road with a hand-picked band of spirited professionals.

What happened next was. . . not much. Then less and less. Then nearly nothing at all. At least the thing still runs.

Why the Wombats are the new Beatles

 They come from Liverpool. They attended the Liverpool Institute, where Paul McCartney and George Harrison went to high school. Only now that school is called the Liverpool Institute for the Performing Arts, due in large part to McCartney’s cash and vision. And when the nascent Wombats — Matt Murphy, Dan Haggis and Tord Overland-Knudson — performed for McCartney at the end of their LIPA career he took immediate and overwhelming notice.

This perhaps because the co-chief Beatle instantly recognized how much the bands have in common: The instantly memorable melodies; top-notch harmony singing; the juxtaposition of upbeat songs with lyrics that are as silly as they are smart; as personal as they are universal; as piercingly insightful as they are funny.

“I don’t do much producing now, but I’d be tempted (to work with the Wombats),” McCartney said.

Over the next five days I’m going to try to convince you, my average reader, in all your smart, indie-leaning, old school-rock-loving, perpetual puzzlement for all things dance-y, clubby and youth-y to realize that there’s at least one new train headed exactly where you want to go. It’s called the Wombats. Let’s climb onboard

We’ll start  with “Anti-D,”  from the Wombats’ latest (2011) album, “The Wombats Proudly Present…the Modern Glitch.” Here, main songwriter/singer Murphy (who goes by Murph), twists a plea for love into a precisely etched portrait of the downside of a chemically-enhanced consciousness. The images are as direct as they are vivid: “We kick back and let the pills do the talking/People hear a distinct rattle when we’re walking…” The chorus as sweet as it is confused and confusing: “Please allow me to be your anti-depressant,” and the concluding bridge/musical digression stirring, sweet and vaguely doomed: “…so I threw away my Citalopram/I need it more than what was in those 40 milligrams/So cast away with the doctor’s plans and please allow me…”

Sweet, sad and just brilliantly performed, “Anti-D” is one of the best new songs I’ve heard this year. I’m particularly fond of this acoustic performance:

Also, here’s the original album take, as set to the official video for the song: