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Music Reviews

Screaming Females - Castle Talk
»Screaming Females
Castle Talk
Don Giovanni
Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross - The Social Network [Original Soundtrack]
»Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross
The Social Network [Original Soundtrack]
The Null Corporation
Deerhunter - Halcyon Digest
Halcyon Digest
No Age - Everything in Between
»No Age
Everything in Between
Sub Pop
Robyn - Body Talk Pt. 1/ Body Talk Pt. 2
Body Talk Pt. 1/ Body Talk Pt. 2
The Walkmen - Lisbon
»The Walkmen
Fat Possum
The Neal Pollack Invasion
Never Mind the Pollacks
The Telegraph Company

Rating: NR/10 ?

October 1, 2004
Wesley Willis died on August 21. The outsider musical artist, underrated visual artist and all-around Chicago fixture succumbed to Chronic Myelogenous Leukemia. His odd humor didn't always come across on his albums, but anyone who had a chance to see his bizarre live shows knows that even when disregarded as a novelty, he was always novel, and often very funny in a twisted, obscure way. He will be missed.

The next day, August 22, I received an album by another one-time Chicago resident, Neal Pollack. Unlike Willis, Pollack is not funny, although he tries much harder.

The Neal Pollack Invasion is a musical second front for Neal Pollack, a writer who has several books under his belt and has also written for everyone from Vanity Fair to McSweeney's. On this album, he dumps his literary gravitas all over ten slim songs that are purportedly about rock 'n' roll but actually more full of waste, or more specifically, "shit" - a which Pollack seems to think is very funny.

Pollack cannot sing. He would probably admit to this, but he also cannot "not" sing in the way he clearly wishes he could. Despite his best efforts, he doesn't have the punk-ish caterwaul of a Johnny Rotten, whose Sex Pistols he references over and over (in case the horribly clichéd title wasn't enough of a cue for whoever might be dense enough to want to listen to this bowel movement of a record). The fact that the album was recorded in a matter of hours might account for it, but I prefer to think that Pollack's tongue was so firmly planted in a well-worn spot in his cheek that it kept him from clearly enunciating the words.

And oh, what words. When a writer like Phil Ochs or Leonard Cohen decides to make music, the customary criticism is that the music is never as good as the lyrics, but in Pollack's case, the opposite is true. It takes a lot of subtlety and knowledge to effectively parody and pay tribute to rock music, and Pollack sorely lacks both. When Liam Lynch, Tenacious D or They Might Be Giants parody rock, with mixed success, it's apparent that it at least comes from a sincere knowledge of the genre. You can almost see their large record collections bleeding through the lyrics, and there is usually some affection for the subject matter.

Pollack sounds like a smirking vulture who sees rock 'n' roll as just another rotting corpse in the pop culture desert, which would be fine for one of his marginally amusing essays. But music is different, and if it's going to be this insincere, there better be good punch lines on tap; better than calling David Bowie a whore.

Pollack will almost certainly disregard all such criticisms with the self-depreciating schlock he shares with his new media brethren. Pollack will call it "snark." Fine. This album is still "shit," to use Pollack's favored adjective.

Musically, there is little to be said. The songs are either boring rock retreads or, worse, Al Yankovic-style appropriations that lack even Yankovic's sense of humor.

Brilliantly funny singer-songwriter Stew is releasing an album this fall, but it probably won't get half the press Pollack's will, and that's just sad, because an album of Stew singing in the shower would be funnier than anything Pollack could ever hope to churn out.

I don't frequently engage in this kind of hyperbole to make a point in a review, but I think this album deserves it. I hope anyone unfortunate enough to hear it will agree that Never Mind the Pollacks is, to borrow a favorite term from the vaunted song book of Neal Pollack himself, "a piece of shit."

Reviewed by Erick Bieritz
Erick Bieritz lives in Chicago, where is usually either very hot or very cold. He was the brainchild behind EPMD, where he wrote about EPs and singles for LAS, looking for overlooked or underappreciated non-album releases.

See other reviews by Erick Bieritz



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