The Honorable Jesse Jarnow
Album Reviews Editor
DON’T HIT THE “DELETE” BUTTON, BOSS!
Check your records: it’s been just 90 days, 2 minutes, and 53 seconds (well, 54 – no, 55 – wait: 56 … ah, you know what I mean) since the last time you got really ticked at me and put me on e-mail suspension for 90 DAYS. And have I violated the suspension even once?
Nope. (The post cards don’t count. By the way, where’d you get that big red marker that you scrawled “RETURN TO SENDER” all over them with? I could still smell it when they showed back up in my mailbox. Cool.)
And I know that I’m supposedly on probation now and not supposed to contact you unless it’s really, really important, right?
Well, it is.
You know how I’ve told you about those voices I hear in my head sometimes? DON’T HIT THE “DELETE” BUTTON! Just hold on a minute, boss, I’m getting to the point RIGHT NOW: I think I’ve actually found somebody that’s got the same sort of thing going on. Yep – I’m holding in my hand a copy of Lithium & Underoos from a cat called P.H. Fred. (Actually, the album is credited to “Mister Fred’s Round Pegs & Bass Peeps” – more on that in a minute.) I’ve been listening and listening and listening to this thing, boss – I’m actually having a hard time doing much of anything else.
One reason is because of the story – it’s a concept album, of sorts. (Down in the lower corner of the cover it even says, “An unbroken love story” … that’s a clue, I suppose.) There’s a few diversions and detours along the way, but I think I have the basic deal figured out: this guy, you see, has a really good thing going with his girlfriend (she wears the previously-mentioned underoos) and everything is all hunky-dory, but then this pole dancer named Lithium (well, actually, she’s referred to as a bi-pole dancer) gets snarled up in the whole scenario and that’s when the whole relationship thing blows up and the guy ends up on his own and questioning if he’s a man or a pelican or something (plus he’s really torn up about David Carradine offing himself) but then he knows it’s time he woke up and smelled the coffee and the old girlfriend turns out to be a real rotten bitch – or maybe not, I’m not quite sure, because eventually he realizes they’re meant to be together and there’s some sort of powerful get-back-together scene in the rain where he promises to build her a pony or something and they end up back together. Or maybe not. Anyway, all these scenes/tracks just drift into each other in this audio dream-like sequence (feel free to use that description in something of your own, boss: “audio dream-like sequence” – pretty hip, eh?) like a crazy foreign film that’s actually in English after all, but your head’s spinning around so fast, you don’t even realize it until the final credits.
But forget the story, Jesse – what I really wanted to tell you about was the music.
Ol’ P.H. Fred is the constant throughout Lithium & Underoos and what he manages to pull off is this folk/rock opera of sorts that at times sounds like a happy, goofy cartoon version of the Velvet Underground crossed with 70s-vintage Jonathan Richman. Fred plays a lot of acoustic guitar throughout the album, laying down a solid foundation for everything from the woozy-sounding mariachi horns on the opening track to wild-ass slide guitar at other times. (And dig this, boss: one of Fred’s buddies is Steve Hunter … remember the live version of “Sweet Jane” on Lou Reed’s Rock & Roll Animal? With the crazy guitar intro? Steve Hunter was part of that episode. Anyway, he’s all over this album with some killer guitar stuff … absolutely wicked.) And when Fred’s not singing or playing the guitar, he’s making noises with power tools and stuff.
Oh – and the “Bass Peeps”? Oh, man: there’s Jimmy Messa from the subdudes and funky ol’ George Porter Jr. and Fernando Saunders (there’s another Lou Reed alumni, along with gigs with Jeff Beck, Eric Clapton, John McLaughlin … you name it) and Mike Watt, too. (Yeah – that’s Mike Watt of Iggy & The Stooges … and I don’t think I need to say any more.)
I know, I know, boss – it’s almost too much to take in, isn’t it? And you’re just READING ABOUT IT. Think of me – spinning this thing over and over and over and over; trying to absorb all the twists and turns and morphs and jams. And one minute things are just sort of gently head-nodding along on a slow drone and the next minute they’re overdriven and spastic and slathered in electrode gel.
So the way I see it, boss, we need to do one of two things: either recognize P.H. Fred for the genius he is – or call the authorities and have the poor bugger locked up. There’s a lot going on in that man’s head. (And on Lithium & Underoos.)
I rest my case. I’ll let you make the call, boss. I’m going to go and lie down for a while.
Your humble servant,