Sartre was square on the nail about love. Love is a perpetually awkward attempt to enslave another without becoming a slave oneself. At it’s dubious apex, what the Personals call a “serious relationship,” it’s a protracted staring contest, with the reluctant master snatching furtive glances through the blinds as the flustered slave scrubs the baseboards. When the sex gets routine, it’s all over but the bitterness, the slow leak in the balloons full of icewater we all conceal somewhere in our guts.
Of course, we’ll always struggle for optimism. We’ll always feel like triumphant Pokemon characters when new birds run their fingertips through the fuzz on the backs of our necks and say we’re too cute. We’ll always ache when it’s over. It’s bound to happen. What’s left but to snicker about it awhile, then go out and consume truckloads of narcissistic sex (“get wet,” as the sage says)? We might as well do something with the downtime. Maybe we'll be able to drop the cynicism along with our trousers one of these days, when we're wiser and don't need so much insulation.
Stephin Merritt writes songs for the brainy saps that ask too much for too little, get buoyed by false hope and sob like beaten gradeschoolers when the inevitable end arrives. Michael Dykehouse writes songs for the cynical, the smart, the funny, the new breed. I consider myself somewhere in between, and I enjoy both men’s music equally. At this moment, on this day, for what my preference is worth, I’d prefer to identify with Dykehouse.
Midrange revolves around “Chain Smoking,” the bubblepunk-flavored tale of a spurned idealist who, like a Chaucer stooge, was ruled by his dick from before Go, and can’t stop sucking coffin tacks as he realizes just how dickish he acted. Most of the balance sticks to the sex act per se like a ripped Trojan wrapper on a sweaty shoulderblade. Witness backwards tenderness in a cheap motel (“When You Come”), a courtship that promptly fizzles post-coitus (“Lost Holiday”: “Lay on top of me ‘til you say when / Then show me to the door / ‘Cause I don’t need you anymore”), and a nervous giggle at the dawn of a needy crush (“One More Day”).
Dykehouse’s vocals are flatter than Andy Partridge on horse tranquilizers, and his tracks are a wintry, computer-driven takeoff on glassy-eyed new wave. I suppose the album's title comes from its karaoke-like philosophical fidelity. This, comrades, is wounded decadence at its most deliriously tasteless.
By Emerson Dameron