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Josh Rouse

1972
Rykodisc

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As a child in the 1970s, our bookshelves were always lined with tales of poppy-strewn French fields, Belgian graveyards, lowland farms choked by wafting smoke and mustard gas. Surrounded, at least in extended family-tree fashion, by gruff-talking D-Day vets and their admirers, it didn't make much sense to be so consumed with the Great War -- the first one -- until Dad explained one day, "I was alive for the second one."

Which, somehow, is the same reason that Josh Rouse's 1972 seems so yawn-ish to me at times: Despite the hit-bound pop perfection of "Come Back," or the spot-on tasteful horns of "Love Vibration," or the title track's melancholy chord-breeze, 1972 is an album that I've already been around for. Yeah, as a baby -- and no, I wasn't trading my Gerber's for Carole King and Marvin Gaye vinyl in the maternity ward -- but still, this record too similar to an entire era for it not to come with memories pre-attached.

Josh Rouse himself must feel that way; after all, he's made a full-length record based on the year of his birth. And, no doubt about it, it's a good one. Take the aforementioned umbrella-drink passive sadness of 8-track-worthy breezers like "Under Your Charms," complete with a who'd-a-thunk-it string section that Bread might smile at. These are songs that could get long-and-straight-haired girls' bras a-burnin'.

It's true that we live in an all-retro, all-the-time culture -- music, even more than fashion, is largely in a "what era do you play?" stage. But it's somehow different when a retro is looking back -- not just without ironic distance, but without distance at all -- at a relatively recent era's top-40 hegemony. Rouse's 1972 is chock-full of great songs begging to be AAA-radio hits -- hell, "Come Back" and the anthemic "Flight Attendant" have a place on just about any mix tape. But they're songs that belong as much in some all-nostalgia musical stage revue as on a modern pop record. This is a war we remember too well.

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