Pick a lucky number
Genie, Genie - Eric Bachmann
Liars and Thieves - Eric Bachmann
Eric Bachmann is a big man, not just tall, but broad shouldered, substantial. And there's a gravity to his features. From his strong, straight nose, thin lips held tight and hairline that was high even before it finally receded, Bachmann was born to brood. Among 90s indie rock frontmen, he was distinguished by his seriousness. Pavement was witty, Built to Spill clever, Guided By Voices playful, Superchunk flat-out fun. And Archers of Loaf, for all its nimble turn of phrase, was ... intense. Oh, and really fucking loud.
Bachmann, in his Crooked Fingers stage, could come across as a bull in the proverbial china shop, or, more to the point, an aggrieved punk in a good-vibes, ganja-soft coffeehouse, his hybrid folk-pop too vehement in its mirthlessness. His thick tongue poised to shout and spit but finding that the context dictated a more conciliatory tone. Sad bastards are one thing, but humor, even if it's gallows humor, goes a long way to lighten the mood. And because Bachmann couldn't tell a joke to save his life, he has occasionally erred on the side of the inappropriately florid. That said, Crooked Fingers owns some of the best three- to four-minute spans of the double oughts, songs like "New Drink For The Old Drunk," "Devils Train," "Angelina" and an austere cover of Neil Diamond's "Solitary Man" that I only heard six months ago but has been my favorite cover of anything anywhere since.
Solitude is a defining theme for Bachmann, so it's only right he should foresake the band apparatus and record and release his new full-length To The Races (US, UK) as a solo effort. It's an appropriately lonely album of finger-picked, rocking chair rhythms and cracks Bachmann might have caulked with noise but instead leaves alone to branch on the bare walls of his spartan structure. The adornments that do creep onto the record are well-chosen. Tim Hagerman's (Devotchka) violin ripples over "Home" like wind on still water, and piano lines in "Liars and Thieves" lend ballast to wobbly heart cries. If on Crooked Fingers records Bachmann often sounds like he's prying words from a locked jaw, his singing on Races is fluid as never before. "Genie, Genie's" tale tumbles out at a rollicking pace:
Pick a lucky number but the numbers lie
So I'm rubbing every bottle I can get my hands on.
Genie, Genie come on out.
Won't you help poor daddy out.
Give me something, I'm looking for something.
You could almost call it jaunty if it weren't about a man looking for hope in a bottle, so low he'll accept any prize--money, a woman, a car, drugs--that might confirm his own continuing existence. Press releases accompanying this record explain that Bachmann wrote the songs while living out of his van, by choice. He's probably getting a little old for that. Even though he sings about the lives of the abject, the very unlucky, the crushed and the smashed and the can't-get-ups and does it exceptionally well, I've never gotten the feeling he's one of them. He's solid like that.