Misery is miserable but it can also be enjoyable if not quite a joy. Without navel-gazing to the tune of questions regarding the persistence of sad songs’ capacity to commandeer souls to their rapture, I would like to suggest that sad songs are appealing because sadness itself has appeal. It means you can feel something and if you can feel something you are capable of getting motivation for life from some place besides common sense, hand-me-down meaning from the past, or worries about the future. That and past sensations of misery seem to grapple themselves to the memory, especially physical memory, more intensely than those of happiness.
Sad songs seem to be slightly on the wane at the moment, or maybe just displaced from their usual regal abode. Not that there aren’t enough already committed to wax to keep all well and diversely stocked for any occasion that demands the sound of sorrow…but summery exuberance, esoteric darkness, wonder, nostalgia, and hedonism seem to be the thing(s) of the moment. Or combinations amongst themselves. Anyway, Cass McCombs didn’t get the memo evidently and I didn’t really begin to like his latest record, WIT’S END, until I started to think of it, very likely mistakenly, in this context. But that is not quite true…
On hearing album opener, “County Line,” a few months ago, I liked the album a lot insofar as the first piece of it that got to me took me aback. Gentle and bitter, soft-rock with chorus sung falsetto, it’s a piece of music where everything just feels to have fallen in the right place; it has its own beauty and logic that are at the same time repetitions, not replicas, of beauties and logics of many an unforgettable song from the past. But I’m not going to name names. It stands on its own easily enough, with grace and ardor to spare.
Maybe for me a certain romance with sad music died with Elliott Smith. Maybe for other people too, don’t know and don’t want to jump too deeply into that thought at the moment, but for a number of personal reasons it is probably true in my case. But Cass McCombs has a very different, winding and meandering take on the essential loneliness of being a human, though “Saturday Sun” seems inflected to me with that something that attends to the beauty of misery and regret that also colors “Waltz #1” — though more spacious, something more Zombies. If one were to name names.
Something tells me that this is the kind of record that is best for making sunny days more bearable by ruining them, staying inside, listening, letting another’s struggles relieve and make more manageable your own. I don’t know if it can be that for me but it can be for many out there, doubtless. Wordplay that has not yet come close to reaching wit’s end, slowness, taste and poise. Almost all the songs here have these admirable things, but the solitary experience they attempt to convey is a bitter pill whose high I cannot quite calibrate.
Stream: Cass McCombs – “The Lonely Doll”