During my sojourn to SXSW, one thing that struck me like a well-placed Pedro Martinez-like change-up to the midsection was the absolute unglamorous nature of rock and roll. I’m sure there are a lot of teenagers out there, practicing at home on their guitars, thinking that one day they will be a `rock star,’ partying all night with hot chicks galore in their mansion in the hills, a bottle of Cristal in one hand and a wad of cash in the other. I can’t even begin to tell you how infrequently this kind of thing happens in this business. The truth is, band upon band, artist upon artist, struggle to get heard, slugging it out in their day jobs, resigning themselves to the fact that they’re really doing it just for fun, because otherwise, disappointment would be utterly devastating. This is especially true now, with the declining sales in retail music, the overwhelming amount of labels, and the necessity to find alternative ways of having music heard. I’m sure that there’s at least one band out there who could back up my argument, that being the Figgs.
You see, the Figgs met as high school students in Saratoga Springs, New York, and formed a band way back in, wait for it, 1987. Now twenty years on, the Figgs are still making music. Yet unlike some of the heavyweight mainstays in the business (the Stones, Aerosmith, etc.), the Figgs aren’t exactly household names. If I were to say that they are the regular backing band for Graham Parker, more people may prick up their ears, even more so if I said that their last album featured Tommy Stinson of the Replacements. Yet on their own, they’re like Clark Kent, the mild mannered reporter for a major metropolitan newspaper, compared to the supermen of the music business. I don’t mean this as an insult; the Figgs are a great band. I’m just trying to illustrate their relative anonymity.
Follow Jean Through the Sea is the band’s seventh full-length album, and it’s a damn sight better than a lot of albums by younger bands on the radio today. There was a time when this type of music, punk informed pop, was all over the place, played to perfection by bands like Squeeze, XTC, Elvis Costello, the Replacements and Big Star. Follow Jean is a perfect fit for that era and a refreshing change to a landscape filled with groups trying to be the next big thing. The Figgs pretty much say it all about the music industry in general in the snarky “Regional Hits,” a spot-on look at radio, labels and the nature of the entertainment business. After twenty years in the marketplace, both at the stagefront and behind the scenes of other acts, it’s easy to take them at their words.
“Regional Hits” is fun and slightly tongue in cheek while being incredibly accessible, but it is not the only highlight of the record. “Don’t Hurt Me Again” bounces along with exuberance and energy while “City Loft Home” slows things down while still maintaining a tension-filled hold on your eardrums. The Figgs have experienced nearly all there is to experience in rock, save for the above described nights of Cristal drinking and mansion partying, at least as far as I know, but they could teach a lot of hopefuls a thing or two about the true nature of the music business. They’ve been on nearly as many labels as they have albums, including some major labels, and are still going strong after two decades of recording. If a band sounds this exuberant and catchy after that long, they must be doing something right.
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Sloan- One Chord to Another
The Posies- Amazing Disgrace