The Meat Of Life
Label: 429 Records
Clem Snide’s Eef Barzelay has a unique voice- it’s front and center on his seventh release, The Meat of Life. To his credit, he sounds as though he’s genuinely smiling while singing most of these songs. It’s a strange smile, though; though some songs paint him as a person genuinely happy to be recording with his band, on other cuts you can almost hear him eager to turn and run from the studio. There’s a restrained note, a hesitant waver that seems to say “I don’t know if I’m ready for this again.”
That uncommitted feeling seeps its way into the record, despite great efforts from band members Brendan Fitzpatrick and Ben Martin. Cuts that should be “great” – the laid back groove of the title track, the soft rock of “Anita” – are reduced to being merely “good” through a series of odd or lazy lyrical twists and turns. “To grow the meat of life/ I will plant my seed” is not a poetic or appealing way to describe conception, it’s downright gross. Furthermore, it’s doubly disgusting when considered next to “Forgive Me, Love,” which features the lines “As we charge headlong into the fray/ Just chewin’ on the meat/ Chewin’ on the meat of life.”
It’s not all bad. Opener “Walmart Parking Lot,” though a frontrunner for 2010’s Worst Song Title, bristles with tense energy shifts and warbling, slightly strained vocals from Barzelay. “I Got High” floats along with a perfectly syncopated delivery and understated chord changes, while dedicated to “All you beautiful/ American girls and boys.” “Please” features a pleading intro and a sweet, restrained solo performance from Barzelay.
Barzelay’s stripped performance on “Denver” is a highlight, and features some of the most detailed and mournful lyrics of his career. “I hope that you never forgive me/ Forever deny me your smile/ ‘Cause I met this woman in Denver/ And now she is carrying my child.” Supporting instrumentation is appropriately spare and haunting, and the track winds up a winner.
Enormous accolades need to be given to Fitzpatrick and Martin for their tight, controlled musicianship – and additional musicians Tony Crow, Roy Agee, and Carole Rabinowitz add depth and color to tracks like “With Nothing Much To Show For It” and “Denise.” Make no mistake, The Meat of Life is a fantastic-sounding record. Produced by the band and Mark Nevers, it’s dreamy, clean and still very much alive; its textures are layered and dense when needed, but never muddy. Tones are perfect, but ragged edges show through. Barzelay’s vocals are out front and crystal clear, making his lyrical oddities that much harder to ignore.
Still, The Meat of Life is ultimately a good-but-not-great record, full of enough subtle musical triumphs to make you smile through some terribly chosen lyrics. It’s not bad by any means – just frustratingly mediocre.
by Jason Stoff