Brett Rosenberg solves a few problems
When Brett Rosenberg and I meet for an interview in Porter Square, we keep getting distracted by the sight of Al Kooper walking past Bruegger’s Bagel Bakery. After a couple of passes, Kooper goes into a block of stores nearby, eventually emerging with a spiffy new haircut.
CRITICAL ISSUES: Rosenberg admits under prodding that the new Drop Dead Air may be pretty good.
It seems appropriate that a piece of rock history should materialize while Rosenberg discusses his new Drop Dead Air (on his own Red Rose label), because pieces of rock history also turn up throughout the album. As a proud fan of ’60s and ’70s pop — and a proud cynic about whatever’s currently on the charts — Rosenberg’s not shy about referring to the music he loves. Like the old Rod Stewart albums he’ll cop to owning, the disc has a fast half and a slow half, with the latter borrowing sound textures from the Eagles and Fleetwood Mac, the former echoing pre-hardcore punk (and more Fleetwood Mac, specifically the gonzoid rockers on Tusk). And when he rhymes “I’ve been to college” with “I know what the facts is,” anyone on his wavelength will appreciate the Steve Miller reference.
It all couldn’t be more different from his previous album with the Brett Rosenberg Problem, last year’s Speed Metal from Montreal, which included, among other things, the best love song ever to use the word “douchebag” in its chorus. Drop Dead Air is more of a vintage-model singer-songwriter album, sensitive and otherwise. Rosenberg doesn’t entirely drop his smart-ass sense of humor, but there’s a vulnerable side here too. “Absolutely Not” is a classic example of how to deploy a hook: the chorus makes an emotional point every time it recurs, as the singer keeps getting his hopes up about a potential relationship and then gets shot down anew. It’s the kind of number that’s gotten him a rep as one of the craftier songwriters in town.
Of course, as Rosenberg points out, that and a buck won’t get you on the Green Line. “I think the song itself is losing power,” he suggests over coffee at Bruegger’s. “You try to explain to people the difference between, say, ‘Bridge over Troubled Water’ and ‘Your Body Is a Wonderland’ and they don’t realize that it isn’t the same thing. Even a few years ago, when I was writing worse songs, it seemed easier to get people into them. But I’ve been trying to promote this album on college radio and one program director came back that it was ‘too commercial.’ All I could think was that if I can’t even get on college radio, I’m less commercial than you realize.”
His cynicism accumulated some fuel a couple nights earlier when his other band, the Rudds (for which he plays lead guitar), opened for the Flaming Lips at Bank of America Pavilion. “Every song had the same obvious, ascending pattern. And all that feel-good talk, every song turning into a sing-along, and the guys in Santa Claus costumes dancing on stage — what the hell was that? It sounded like songs that the Beach Boys would have done in 1972, when that guy Jack Rieley [their short-lived manager] was writing all the lyrics. It’s just Odelay syndrome again. People pick the nearest thing that looks a little oddball and convince themselves that it’s the hippest thing that ever came along.”
: New England Music News
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