Albums are bullshit. That's just an indisputable fact. Sure, the dominance of album-oriented pop music has been not just unchallenged but, in the U.S., unchallengeable for decades: We can hardly even lay claim to more than a few honest-to-god one-hit wonders over the past 10 years, nonetheless more than a handful of brilliant singles, what with the nationwide mass-scale industry that even indie labels have adapted to. But the truth remains well known to the good people of pop: Anyone can make a "great" album -- you've got 74 fucking minutes and unlimited fucking ProTools tracks in which to do it. But who can make a brilliant single? Who can take two songs with a record-flip break in the middle, no liner notes, little artwork, no background story from a host of publicists and media workers, and turn it into something that might be ephemeral, but for the moment at least will make an inundated music-consuming public drop their iPods and stand over the deck with bated breath and pumping fist waiting to flip that puppy?
The Silver Thread did it last year right here in Pittsburgh, with "Are You Ready To Go," a tough-as-nails slab of mod-punked-up pop that the band followed up brilliantly with "breaking up" -- not a song, but the finest action an 11-month-old band of smash-and-grab pop geniuses can take. (The Thread has since reformed, which is an excellent move, for them and us, but not quite as loser-rock heroic.) This year, it's Shopping, 2004's golden boys of the Pittsburgh scene; the band you don't want to go see at Gooski's without a cattle prod to get the crowds to vacate your path to the bar.
If this were a different era, a different place, a different music industry, "Vida Loca" would be what they once called a "regional hit" -- the song on the lips of every hipster deejay on every Pittsburgh radio station. Kids would trawl the streets of Oakland for girls and drugs with its resounding nonsensical children's-game closing lines, "Olly-olly-olly-olly oxen-free!" written in Wite-Out on their Converse All-Stars. Sweeping new-wave energy and squeaking-with-anger vitriolic vocals: absolutely mega. And "Cash Is Fine" would be the one that 16-year-old, 'cross-the-tracks beaus were dedicating on-air to the Sewickley gals whose parents won't let them see "that hooligan with the Shopping T-shirt" anymore. Epic keyboard bleeds and lighters-up crescendos and vaguely oriental guitar impressions: tawdry and sorrowful, bleary-eyed exhaustion with America and self, "I'd never let my tongue interfere / to interfere was never my plan / I don't make any plans at all."
There's no justice in America, least of all in our music business; it's best to not make any plans at all. But if there were, Shopping would spend the next six months preaching this single to the world and saving the odd teen-age life along the way. Then they'd split up, and we'd cherish them forever.