by Jonathan Bannister (@j_utah)
A year ago Rob Crow was swearing off music for good. The eternal struggle of trying to stay a float in a band while being a family man had taken its toll. It also doesn’t help when you pick up certain unhealthy fancies that come with the touring life. He was gonna get healthy, flush the notes from his veins, and say goodbye. It was time to focus on his family and his health. But any true musician knows it’s not that simple. For those cursed with wanting to play music for a living, you can’t just purge it from your system. It is your system. And so here it is a year later and Rob Crow is back with a new band Rob Crow’s Gloomy Place and a new album You’re Doomed. Be Nice. It’s an album that sounds like it had to be released. One that wouldn’t stay pent up inside.
Crow himself looks great. Fit and lean it’s clear that the break was beneficial. You can also hear it in the music. He might even be having fun. The album is full of that patented Crow “prog pop” sound. Baritone guitar and bass heavy melodies, heavy lyrics sung in a sing-song way, and riffs and grooves a plenty. If you know Pinback then you know the sound. But there is one major difference, honesty. Much of Pinback’s catalogue is cloaked in code that can make it hard to decipher. Sometimes there is absurdity. Songs to bounce along and shout with even if you’re not really sure what it is you’re shouting about. But on …Be Nice Crow lets us in. Songs are filled with honest fears about living. Questions he probably wrestled with while on break.
Early on in the album Crow sings what could be the thesis statement of the album. “What is anybody worth?” Crow ponders. A question that is relevant to living in our current world. If you view your fellow humans as having worth it’s easy to be nice. Why be nice if people are worthless? Elsewhere on the album, Crow comments on his unbelief in a god, stating “I’m jealous of faith, I know that I’m right, but that doesn’t help me get to sleep at night. I only have nightmares.” These are weighty topics for pop music but Crow doesn’t shy away from them. As campuses become philosophical battlegrounds, an ugly election season rips up the country, and terrorists spread fear through the world these are also vital topics. Niceness is falling to the wayside as sides are being chosen. The cultural relevance lends the album a feeling of importance.
The instrumentation on the album corresponds to the weighty subject matter. The baritone guitar provides the sound of the aching soul searching for answers. There isn’t a lot of upper register represented on the album. It’s filled with sounds and riff structures we’ve come to know from Crow. And while the sounds might be somber, the music still manages to counter balance the vocal heaviness. It is a pop album after all and the album first and foremost is downright catchy. It lets the listener dance out their worry and turn the nervous energy into something cathartic. Or instead of dancing one might want to drive it out as in the case of “Rest Your Soul,” a song that makes it impossible not to crank the stereo and speed down the highway, well over the limit. Crow’s ear for melody is in top form and shines on the record. The back half of the album gets even moodier musically and contains some of the best songs of Crow’s career. Complex songs that lets the listener unearth something new during those late night repeat listens.
You’re Doomed. Be Nice. is an album that let’s us in to the things that rattle around in Crow’s brain. An album that is necessary and unavoidable and one that features an artist unleashing everything that welled up inside over a year of rediscovery. Themes and melodies that demanded to be heard. Time will tell if more comes, but there’s plenty here to keep one busy for some time.