Mr. Crafty

By BRETT MILANO  |  September 21, 2006

But he isn’t much more charitable when discussing his own work. His guitar-playing ability? “It’s gotten better since a few years ago, when I wasn’t comfortable on stage and hadn’t replaced that bullshit pseudo Keith Richards sound I had.” His Rumble-finalist set with the Problem in 1994? “An unbearable bar-band set. Everything I don’t like about Mellencamp — all the cheap tricks and obvious rhymes.” The excellent 2002 Shock Twins album, with its Guided by Voices vibe? “It always sounds like them when you get someone with a four-track recorder and no idea what they’re doing.” What about the hopped-up classic-rock sound on the jokingly titled Speed Metal? “I didn’t have anything to say on that record. That was just a Get the Knack kind of album — catchy songs and dirty lyrics, that was the whole idea. That and spending the money we won in the Rumble. We could be a ballsy rock-and-roll band on stage, but I don’t think those records really matter.”

Under prodding, however, he’ll admit that the new disc may be pretty good. You might think he recorded it as a strike for classic pop values, and that’s partly true, but other factors were pressing as well. After five years together, his Problem fell apart when drummer Jason Sloan quit and bassist Geoff Hayton moved to California. After much hemming and hawing, Rosenberg decided to keep the name for his new band: bassist Jim Collins, drummer Richard Adkins, and Ethan Krietzer on keyboards. All appear on the disc, as does local legend David Minehan, but he does most of the work himself.

“I looked around my apartment and said, ‘Okay, here’s a side of me that maybe people haven’t seen.’ I wanted to do something a little honest, and maybe I have something to say about the scene and being a musician in the 21st century. My taste can be pretty flighty, but I think the question is whether the lyrics and the songs stay real. And if you do that kind of record, you’re bound to fall into those typical singer-songwriter themes of being lonely and alienated.”

On the new album he got introspective enough to close with “When I Die,” a song about visiting his grandmother. “She’s doing the things old people do, being hit by pop culture in the most obnoxious way. And I’m thinking that if I feel obsolete as a power-pop songwriter in the 21st century, how does a legally blind 92-year-old feel?” As if on cue, another bad soft-rock hit comes on the Bruegger’s radio, and Rosenberg realizes his mission in life: “It’s hard to be earnest unless you’re John Mayer. So what I really want is to be John Mayer for smart people. Or the Magnetic Fields for idiots.”

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