America has reunited for a new album, and you know what that means, the hipsters are already writing their negative reviews. This only confirms what I’ve believed all along, hipsters are idiots. What they are not realizing is that music is multi-purpose, not simply a means of adding cred to the listener. I know, you look pretty cool with your too small t-shirt, your messenger bag and Captain Beefheart on your iPod, but does it all make you happy? Music can and should also be about lifting your spirits, calling forth memories and soothing the soul, which is why this new album from America is so relevant right now.
I grew up listening to America. My father was entrenched in the sounds of California soft rock in the early ’70s. Car trips with pops meant mellowing out to the laid-back folk rock of the Eagles, the Little River Band, the Doobie Brothers and, yes, America. A quick scan of some later `hip’ bands in their wake reveal that I was not alone. Teenage Fanclub, the Posies, Fountains of Wayne and Midlake all found succor in unobtrusive soft rock. So, why then is some of it cool and some of it not cool, at least in the Conor Oberst-like, oh-so-sad puppy dog eyes of today’s hipster?
I don’t know if I can even answer that question as the very fact that I have to ask it befuddles me, so I’m only going to continue on with the review of this double album from this beloved classic rock mainstay. Listen at a maximum of maybe an hour to your local classic rock station, and you’re sure to catch either “Sister Golden Hair” or “A Horse With No Name.” These gems bring a smile to my face every time I hear them, and since my store’s portable radio is constantly on the classic rock station, it’s often. Maybe that’s what the hipsters don’t like about America. Maybe they just want to revel in their own sadness, and those crazy bongos in “Horse” just won’t let them.
Apparently, Adam Schlesinger and James Iha would get those smiles as well, as they wound up enticing the band into the studio under their production supervision to record Here & Now. What the pair ended up doing was recapturing the spirit of the band’s work in their heyday, while channeling it through the music that’s come since. At times, in listening to the new tracks that make up the first disc, I could have sworn I was listening to the Posies or even Schlesinger’s own band, Fountains of Wayne. Upbeat songs with titles like “Chasing the Rainbow” and “All I Think About is You” pervade that initial disc, showing that America’s light and easy version of Neil Young style folk is alive and well.
That’s not all there is to Here & Now, an apt title if ever there was one. There are covers of contemporary songs as well, including an inspired version of My Morning Jacket’s “Golden” featuring Jim James. There’s also Nada Surf’s “Always Love,” featuring members of that band, and guest appearances throughout the album from Ben Kweller and Ryan Adams who, oddly, didn’t contribute any songwriting. I guess he was afraid that he wouldn’t have enough songs left over for his `box set a month’ plan for 2007.
The second disc is somewhat another collection of America’s greatest hits, always a treat in whatever format they’re presented. This time, the songs were recorded live in the XM studios a little over a year ago. “Ventura Highway,” “Tin Man,” “Sandman,” “Sister Golden Hair” and “A Horse With No Name” stand the test of time nicely, pleasing the crowds `here and now’ just as much as in the early ’70s. Okay, “Muskrat Love” is still silly and fairly unnecessary, but due to its popularity thanks to the Captain & Tenille, usually finds its way into any of their collections. And, wouldn’t you know it, by the time the last song of the last disc rolled around, and those bongos started to play, I had a smile on my face all over again, remembering all of those car trips with dear old dad. Maybe that’s what’s wrong with the hipsters, maybe they all have father issues.