“Eww, you actually like this shit?”
Where to begin? Mark Kozelek doesn’t make it easy. For a kick off, this is an album of two hours and nine minutes. Sixteen songs, only four of them under seven minutes. You can’t really get into it on the daily commute. It requires investment, in so many ways.
I’m not even sure that they are songs. It’s a sprawling mass of samples, beats and synth patterns, with Kozelek sometimes singing, sometimes rapping, sometimes just talking. Most of the time he seems pretty pissed off, whether with himself or the modern world (particularly iPhones and Twitter). Occasionally his beef is with politics or school shootings or celebrity worship. That said, he delivers many of his diatribes with a really subtle humour. There are genuinely some laugh out loud moments here.
But Kozelek knows fine well what he is asking of the listener. He recognises that this ain’t Coldplay. Indeed, at one point he openly questions why you would waste time listening to this. At more than two hours long, it’s a fair question.
And yet… It’s incredibly bold. It’s daring. I cannot think of any album this decade that has set out to be so confrontational, in every way. And despite it’s length and, frankly, the lack of stuff going on musically, it is utterly compelling. It grips you and engages you throughout.
The second longest song on the album, Philadelphia Cop, is the stand out. At one point he advises “If you’re a man in charge claiming you’re a staunch feminist, then give a woman your job or shut the fuck up, Queen Bitch.” Tell it like it is, Mark. From there, he goes into a paean to David Bowie (Queen Bitch, yeah?).
My favourite songs on the album are the ones that are the most human. Like Butch Lullaby, a wonderful tribute to an old friend, now lost, told with respect and love. It’s a beautiful eight minutes that highlights just what a great storyteller Kozelek is. And Chili Lemon Peanuts, a compelling story about Kozelek going to Las Vegas to see Manny Pacquiao fight against Timothy Bradley.
I really don’t expect many people to have this on their album of the decade list. I actually can’t imagine many folk have listened to it in its entirety, start to finish. But everyone should. It’s innovative, it’s like nothing else and it is totally daring. It’s what art should be about and that’s why it’s not only here, but is so high up on this list.