Hello, Dear Reader. If you’re like me, you probably feel like very little musically can surprise you at this point. You’ve lived through things like Cowboy Troy, the country rapper. You’ve perhaps experienced Pat Boone’s metal album, and Paul Anka’s “Rock Swings.” We’ve seen the Macarena top the charts. Sorry to remind you. Still, every now and again something still manages to flabbergast even myself. This week, it was finding this gem.
In a year which has seen musical team-ups such as Lady Gaga and Kermit the Frog, and threatened the unholy alliance that would have been Wayne Coyne and Ke$ha, the most perplexing for me ended up being Billie Joe and Norah, who put out a classic country styled album recently. “That’s not weird,” you might say, “that totally sounds like a legit country duo.” Well yes, it does, until you do the mental legwork. Norah is Norah Jones, better known for being a jazzy adult-contemporary megapower. It’s not completely out of the box for her to go a bit country… she did dabble with the folksy band The Little Willies for a bit, and despite her respectability brought on by a smoky, nuanced voice, she’s still a pop star, and pop stars exist to sell records, regardless of genre. If she was going to maintain respectability, she’d be more of a punk star. By the way, we haven’t talked about this Billie Joe guy. Where’s he from?
Oh for fuck’s sake, him? Really?
If you’d asked me nearly a decade ago, I’d have told you that Green Day was poised to finally be relevantly punk. I was younger and more naïve, sure, but it really did seem possible. A decade prior to that, they came onto the rock scene with a mix of catchy three-chord punk, snotty attitude, and vulgar songs about jerking off, destined to be a commercial rock powerhouse, but not a true punk band. With American Idiot, it felt like they were finally making a statement, even if it was one that we all were making. It was an album that I immediately connected to not only politically, but in the way it was willing to be ambitious in song structure for a “punk” album. Long form story arcs like “Jesus of Suburbia” had rock opera movements, while a song like “St. Jimmy” mined some old surf harmony toward the end. It’s easy to look back on the album sourly, but right then, it was the album no one expected from Green Day, and it felt like a world of promise, and a reinvention.
What the album ended up being, instead, was a sort of midlife crisis. Billie Joe Armstrong, the band’s lead singer, seemed to think he needed to reinvent his image to fit the painful emo wave (what was it by then, the fourth iteration?) that was dominating the “punk” scene. It became a dividing line of an album: I don’t imagine the same people who were buying Green Day’s work before American Idiot are also the ones who have bought any of the few Green Day albums since. I don’t even think the two decades had the same Green Day. To me, the oddest thing is that there was a change at all. I’m not a multi-platinum recording artist, but the sheer staying power and selling power of American Idiot would have suggested to me that I still “had it,” without needing to adopt the eyeliner and ironic Avril Lavigne tie. Resonating with a younger generation seemed to make Billie Joe feel obligated to be one of them. Thus did the glimmer of hope in a political, activist-tinged album signal a selling out on a level rarely achieved, not to mention scads of copycat songs, instead of an embracing of punk aesthetic. I don’t throw the term “sell out” around flippantly, either. There’s just no other word for the trajectory of Green Day ever since American Idiot dropped.
That’s the Billie Joe that Norah’s singing with, by the way, in case you didn’t get the connection.
Part of the shock of this album, titled Foreverly (which is incredibly stupid, even factoring in the pun), is that two people with such cultural cachet and such disconnect from the album’s genre released this record without my hearing anything about it until it dropped. Were there articles about what a ridiculous idea it was? Maybe. Were Norah and Billie fans respectively salivating for it? Some probably were. Yet the hype slipped right past me. The other part of the shock, though, is that it literally comes out of left field. It’s a serious album from musicians who are, overall, pretty serious about their music, regardless of genre. But it’s a serious album that seems to have no roots. I have no idea when Billie Joe decided he liked old-timey folk, or when he and Norah Jones met and became friends. Are they dating or something now? Do I have to go to Perez Hilton and find out? This is unfair, internet. All the questions and no acceptable way to find the answers! Or maybe there is no answer. Maybe no one knows. Maybe Billie and Norah don’t even know.
Perhaps most remarkable about the album, though, is that it isn’t. Not that I expected it to be great, but it’s almost entirely bland. It’s not bad, it’s not good, it’s just there. Billie Joe proves how affected his Green Day voice is by sounding nothing like himself (30 guesses would be too few if you were playing “name that singer”), but otherwise this album is twelve songs worth of forgettable. The songs blend one into the other and mine old country tropes. The duets are sung the same way: the two sing in basic harmony. Well, Norah seems to be the harmony in most places, while Billie seems to be singing the original melody lines. Neither voice gets a real “solo” moment, there is no response or interaction between the two singers, and the songs themselves do not benefit from having two vocalists. The songs are still written for one. This is even more surprising considering the album is a cover, basically song for song, of another album. Two groups considered this selection of drab, otherwise forgotten pieces to be worth preserving. I highly doubt Billie and Norah will be the ones that finally make these tracks stick.
I feel like, for something like this, the first song is often the most representative piece to look at, but instead, I’m choosing “Who’s Gonna Shoe Your Pretty Little Feet?” because it hits a couple major Foreverly themes. The first is having tiny shoes (see also the closing “Put My Little Shoes Away”), a pretty specific theme to touch on twice, even in covering a record which covers traditional songs. The second, however, is in the answer to the song’s question: Papa. He’s going to buy your shoes. Like, apparently forever. There is a very weird parental nostalgia throughout the collection, where Papa’s always doing this and Mama’s always doing that. It dates the collection even further, because we don’t normally sing wistful nostalgic songs about that “silver haired daddy of mine” these days. Nor do we normally call him Daddy once we pass age 10. It harkens back to the super-creep standards of yore (“My Heart Belongs to Daddy,” anyone?), and even bringing mom in at times doesn’t make this any less anachronistic.
The biggest sin of “Who’s Gonna Shoe…?” however is that it is deadly boring. There are technically four lines to the song… seven if you count the responses, despite only adding four new words to the proceedings. It says nothing, except that this person’s parents will buy their shoes and gloves, while the singer kisses the heck out of them. In the end, the song may be the most meaningful piece of the album for this reason: the album, like this song, says nothing of interest. For a disc that seems obligated to be a comic train wreck, not even being interesting is the true death knell. A moment of silence please: we may have just seen two powerhouses of the last decade immediately and quietly become irrelevant.
Comments are closed.