I sometimes wonder what makes certain people who have a way with words choose which path to follow: become a songwriter or focus on non-musical prose and poetry. John Roderick, the singer-songwriter at the center of the Long Winters, could seemingly craft some killer short stories. The problem on Putting the Days to Bed is that the music that accompanies Roderick’s witty, insightful lyrics usually isn’t half as appealing.
The music on Putting the Days to Bed basically falls into two categories: Elliott Smith/Conor Oberst-inspired simple strumming of guitars and the type of frenetic, jangly new-wave pop that reminds me how much the Strokes et. al. ripped off Tom Petty. Invariably, that second type is catchier and more fun. “Fire Island, AK” is the album’s biggest winner, those speedy guitars matched by an equally jumpy piano line. “Rich Wife” is a rocking piece of vitriol aimed at a lass Roderick obviously ain’t too fond of. Wordsmith that he is, Roderick gets in some good digs, including, “Is your high horse getting harder to ride?/ Is your little bit on the side getting harder to find?”
Elsewhere, it’s all about this type of quality penmanship. “Hindsight” uses a nautical metaphor for a relationship, similar to Ugly Casanova’s “Barnacles,” with Roderick sadly realizing, “I’m bailing water/ Because I like the shape of the boat.” “(It’s a) Departure” plays loose with Springsteen’s “Glory Days,” with Roderick announcing, “I like the old days/ But not all the old days/ Only the good old days,” those last three words shouted in beer-mug pumping glory. “Honest” is the best writing sample here, a story of a young girl in love with a rock ‘n’ roll singer who gets sage advice from her mother, who used to be in that exact same predicament. And “Seven” is a longing love song to a girl who must be the long lost sister of Six from Blossom. What adds to all these great little stories that they’re sung in an equally great voice; Roderick has a smoky, warm, inviting timbre.
Literary types are obviously quite smart. If in the future Roderick puts more brain power behind making his music as adventurous as his lyrics, the Long Winters’ albums should only get better and better.
“Pushover” MP3Audio: http://www.myspace.com/thelongwinters