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The Old Eccentrics

By B.A. Nilsson

Loudon Wainwright III

Strange Weirdos: Music from and Inspired by the Film Knocked Up (Concord)

Don’t think of this as the Knocked Up soundtrack recording, even thought the tie-in is profound. Judd Apatow has been a Loudon Wainwright fan for decades, and used the singer-songwriter as actor and/or music source in The 40-Year-Old Virgin and the TV series Undeclared. When he asked Wainwright to score Knocked Up, he discovered that this album—a collaboration between Wainwright and Joe Henry—already was in the planning stages. (Look for Wainwright’s movie cameo as Dr. Howard).

What evolved is an amalgam of soundtrack instrumentals, soundtrack instrumentals with lyrics restored, and songs Wainwright has been performing for the past few years. And even those categories overlap. It’s Wainwright’s 22nd album and his first for Concord, although he has gypsied so often from label to label that odds are good it’s a one-off.

That’s because his songs are too eclectic (if not downright cerebral) to win a large following beyond those who drove his 1972 single “Dead Skunk” onto the charts. Yet he persists as an artist (signed all those years ago in the search for the next Bob Dylan) who continues to develop a compelling repertory of trenchant, insightful songs.

The album takes its title from one of the movie’s songs, a love song tinged with melancholy, a feeling reinforced by an arrangement that adds string quartet and piano behind Wainwright’s voice and guitar. It’s a hopeful ballad, suggesting that the lonely and socially maladept can find one another—but with reservations (“If I let you know me then why would you want me?/But each day I don’t is a shame”).

Given the movie’s subject, it’s no surprise to find songs like “X or Y” and “Be Careful, There’s a Baby in the House,” songs celebrating a theme that father-of-Rufus-and-Martha Loudon explored as far back as his 1971 second album. This time, “Be Careful” is a gospel-tinged number with backup singers and organist Jebin Bruni wailing away. And it’s one of eight solo originals, most of which are recent, one of which (“Lullaby”) dates back to 1973 but this time gets a smooth arrangement featuring Richard Thompson on guitar.

Alt-country artist Joe Henry showed a newer sound on his most recent CDs, Scar and Tiny Voices, and proves to be a deft fit with Wainwright, with whom he co-wrote “You Can’t Fail Me Now” and “So Much to Do” for this album.

Mose Allison’s “Feel So Good” is one of a handful of other people’s songs Wainwright performs in concert. Here it gets an infectiously bouncy recording and fits so well in Loudon’s repertory that you could mistake it for an original. Likewise, Peter Blegvad’s “Daughter” wins a spot on this lineup.

But it’s songs like “Grey in L.A.” and “Doin’ the Math” that offer the purest Loudon, songs whose catchiness only slowly reveals the morbid wit that long has characterized Wainwright’s candid self reflections. Expect a more sober tone from the album than that which the movie offers, but fun-sober, witty-sober, the sobriety of someone who nevertheless knows how to enjoy the sauce.

Marilyn Manson

Eat me, Drink me (interscope)

“I’m not dead yet!” That classic line from Monty Python and the Holy Grail basically sums up the extent of Marilyn Manson’s latest album, Eat Me, Drink Me, and its themes of vampirism and eternal life. Having a new, 19-year-old nymphomaniac as a girlfriend could make any aging, makeup-wearing shock rocker feel a little long in the tooth, but Manson takes things far beyond the realm of the “I’m still relevant!” rock shtick. The most glaring example of this is on the track “Mutilation is the Most Sincere Form of Flattery,” where Manson rails against My Chemical Romance for ripping him off.

Yes, Manson, the guy whose latest album is at best a love letter (if not a shrine) to David Bowie—and whose entire career has been based on assuming bits of Alice Cooper, Kiss, NIN, Bowie and, God forbid, even White Zombie—actually has the nerve to accuse someone else of being a poseur and ripping him off.

First, Manson, the scary mofo from Antichrist Superstar who kills chickens and inspires assassination attempts, should not know who the fuck emo darlings My Chemical Romance are. Second, even if Manson had a foot to stand on in his gripe and needed to take recourse, he should have been able to come up with a better chorus than “Fuck you, fuck you, fuck you, fuck you, too!” (Nothing should be able to spoil an emo-vs.-goth slap fight. Look at that mascara fly!)

But honestly, the album is not that bad. If you enjoy goth-tinged glam-rock with disposable lyrics, the album should be completely inoffensive to you—and that is the problem. Marilyn Manson should not be inoffensive.

Please don’t think I’m taking shots at an easy target. I actually feel that Manson lent rock a very needed sense of danger during the late ’90s. However, reality has set in for me, and likely for Manson himself, who only seemed relevant on his first two albums (and with the production and writing help of Trent Reznor). We both know he is nothing more than a rock cartoon.

The sad truth is, Marilyn Manson is dead, and you can all blame my mother for his death. You see, she likes the new album. She heard it the other day and told me, “It’s not deep music, but it’s got nice instrumentation, and it’s fun!”

—David King

Clara Rockmore

Clara Rockmore’s Lost Theremin Album (Bridge)

Leon Theremin invented the electronic instrument that bears his surname in 1919. For just under two decades, he presented it in performances, including a Carnegie Hall concert featuring 10 Thereminists. His most compelling argument for its virtuoso possibilities came at the hands of Clara Rockmore. A fellow Russian émigré, Rockmore was a concert violinist who transferred her supple technique to the similar register of the Theremin. Alas, the instrument remained a curiosity, finally finding favor as a sound-effects device for Hollywood B-movies in the horror genre.

Robert Moog, who was enamored with the Theremin as a teen and went on to also invent an electronic instrument which bore his own name, coaxed Rockmore out of retirement in 1975 to record a couple hours of her repertoire. Half of them were then released (and later reissued on CD), but the remaining performances remained on the shelf, Rockmore herself referring to them as her “lost album.” While she didn’t live to see this release (she died in 1998 at age 87), it has been lovingly assembled by her nephew. Two selections have been judiciously embellished with a cello section, and another with classical guitar. With accompaniment by pianist Nadia Reisenberg, the general familiarity of much of the material (Schubert, Chopin, Ravel, Gershwin, Bach, etc.) allows the focus to land squarely Clara Rockmore’s mastery of the Theremin.

—David Greenberger

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