by Josh Ginsberg (@world0fdarkness)
Concept albums get a bad rap. They often come off as cheeseball moves—highfalutin gestures that assert an artist’s superiority over the “regular old rock” of their contemporaries. We associate them with the half-baked merchandising stunts of the school of rock bands whose apparel can be purchased at Target or Kohl’s with ease. And, at the end of the day, they often do wind up failing to live up to the promise of their elaborate frameworks. Goose Wazoo, Lost Boy ?’s follow-up to 2015’s Canned, is capital-C concept album, complete with wacky characters and a comic book that recontextualizes its lyrics (illustrated by David Owen Beyers, AKA Boatz). However, it is not bogged down with an unwieldy narrative or moralizing rhetoric. Instead Lost Boy ? use the cartoony premise of Goose Wazoo—the story of a time traveling detective—to explore the heartbreak inherent to humanity, no matter how superhuman they may be. While our hero may have the ability to travel through time, he is vulnerable to the regret and ennui that haunt all people. Long one of New York’s strangest and most interesting musical thinkers, Davey Jones uses the science fiction conceits of Goose Wazoo to explore of superhuman magnitude: the universal anxiety over time’s passage and the ultimate futility of trying to defy its effects.
The hyperactive thrashing of “Replay” first explores the experience of being haunted by memory. Regret is a natural part of the human condition—the necessary byproduct of memory, critical thinking and the inability to go back in time. “Replay” only last for a minute, but it is more than enough time for Jones to create the sense that he’s been dogged by regret for a couple lifetimes. The limited duration and repetitive structure of “Replay” simulate the nagging self-loathing that regret brings about. With “Replay” Lost Boy ? forces listeners to confront the quotidian tragedy that time runs in a straight line and you can’t ever go back. While this theme has been explored by other artists before, Lost Boy ? uses it as a foundation for the uniquely strange message Goose Wazoo sends.
Ten tracks after “Replay,” the gently jangling “Déjà Vu” explores the wish for a second chance. Jones imagines waking from a dream that “changed the course of [his] future,” allowing him a second chance at “all those things...that didn’t go my way.” While this continues the thematic thread of “Replay,” Jones’s decision to cast the discovery of his ability to “[change] the course of his future” against plaintive minor chords on “Déjà Vu” imbues the notion of having a second chance with a subtle sense of dread. “Déjà Vu” makes listeners wonder if getting a “second chance” might ultimately be futile.
“Déjà Vu” transitions seamlessly into “Crystal Ball,” a song that finds Jones balking at the terrifying unknown that lies ahead. He continues to yearn for a second chance at the past but focuses his attention on the desire to skip ahead to the final chapter of the book of his life, by consulting a crystal ball. Jones plays the naïf, unable to understand why the personified crystal ball neglects to tell him his future. This premise allows Jones to implicate linear time in another universal disappointment—you never get to learn how your own story turns out. While the impossibility of knowing his future causes Jones anxiety, in the end, Goose Wazoo suggests that people might actually be better off not knowing how it all ends and simply enjoying the ride while it lasts.
We’ve all looked back and wished we’d done things differently, but shouldn’t Detective Goose Wazoo’s ability to go back in time prevent him from feeling that way? Can’t time travel cure humans of the existential crises that haunt our lives?
Davey Jones does not give the tale of Goose Wazoo a happy ending; nor does he seem to rate time travel very favorably. The rabid closer “It Before” suggests that living a thousand lives is even more debilitating than having to live with your mistakes once. “It Before” is built upon the repeated verse “I’ve been in this room a long time / and I’ve been thinking about doing something we’ve all thought / it’s not insane to think it or do it / we’ve all thought it before.” At first, the song registers as a straightforward lament—life gets stale, the longer you live it. It’s dull and repetitive and the repetition is maddening. The slacker anthem “Boring Jr.” channels a similar sentiment, as it taps into the dark dual nature of having nothing to do. Wedged in the middle of a hellish workweek, our days off feel holy. However, like so many other indulgences, the uneventful freedom of days with nothing to do can be debilitating, too, in abundance. The workplace daydream of having a “holiday / everyday” invariably leads to ennui. Eventually, time traveling grows stale, too.
So, time travel precipitates deadening ennui. But it gets worse. “It Before” harkens back to “Replay,” and poses the question: What’s worse than living with the irreversible mistakes you make in life?
The answer? The horrifying realization that, even with the infinite opportunities to right your wrongs that time travel affords you, you simply cannot stop fucking up.
No matter how many chances you get, you will ultimately fail. Worse yet, your endless tries will inundate you with so much living that you will lose the ability to enjoy life anymore. Its novelty will wear out. The inexhaustible possibilities of time travel will only rob you of the ability to experience something fresh. You will be damned to suffer the promethean repetition of being gored by your flaws in perpetuity, until you find yourself like the protagonist of David Owen Beyers’ comic book counterpart of “It Before”: reading a pamphlet called “Death is the Answer,” playing puff-puff-pass with the Grim Reaper and a loaded gun.
There is a teeny pearl of optimism nestled among the terrifying brambles of Goose Wazoo’s wasteland, and its name is “Love You Only.”
“Love You Only” is the first song that emerged from Goose Wazoo. It premiered on Stereogum the evening before Valentine’s Day, 2015 but I first heard it the next morning. That year, Valentine’s Day was a Saturday, and I spent my Saturday morning ‘surfing the net’ from my girlfriend’s laptop in my girlfriend’s bed in Somerville, Mass, while she dozed beside me. I was delighted to discover that there was a new Lost Boy ? song, and felt particularly enamored of the single’s art: Lost Boy ?’s black and white, melting question mark coat of arms, sitting atop a bed of chalky purples, yellows, pinks and green, the kind of candy hearts you’d give out to the whole class in the second grade. My girlfriend’s room had big windows, and even from behind thick curtains, the biting Northeastern cold found its way into the room. It was the kind of room that a person could not exist in without seeking refuge under the covers, from December through March. I listened to “Love You Only” as she slept, her snores sounding like purrs, wrapped up in her orange slanket and rainbow duvet. Every weekend I rode the bus from midtown Manhattan to Alewife Station. I arrived late Friday night and left Sunday morning and my Saturday with Hannah was a single day at the tail end of my week but it felt like the center. It is the only time in my life I really felt what a Sabbath is supposed to feel like: a single day of rest, heavy with an otherworldly significance, even if I still had to grade essays in bed.
“Love You Only” articulates the subtly melancholic longing of early Beatles singles spoken through the razor sharp language of Weezer’s distorted guitars. It is an unflinching testament to the certainty of its singer’s love for someone, so bright and strong that any lurking regrets are rendered invisible like what sits beyond the window of a well-lit room in the dark of night. While Jones asks “Is it wrong that I want to love you only / ‘til the end of time,” one does not get the impression that he is really asking. This is the sound of a man finding religion. As the song reaches its climax, layers of chirping voices engage in call response with Jones’ lead vocal, evoking “God Only Knows” despite its incredible punk rock simplicity. While “It Before” evokes Yeats’ apocalyptic vision of things falling apart and the center being too weak to hold, “Love You Only” cuts through the dark like a tractor beam from a UFO. The desire to devote oneself to love, and let the rest of the world fade away, pierces right through Goose Wazoo’s middle. While the decision to conclude the album with “It Before” offers an unapologetically bleak statement about life and time, “Love You Only” suggests that, at least fleetingly, the belief in love and eternity can eclipse all the horrible shit life dishes out. At least before you fuck it up. And regret it. And travel through time to fix it. And fuck it up again. And repeat.