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People Like Us - Welcome Abroad

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Artist: People Like Us

Album: Welcome Abroad

Label: Illegal Art

Review date: May. 24, 2011


People Like Us - "Wandering" (Welcome Abroad)


No matter how sick I get of writing about music, I expect to be continuously inundated with it for the duration. If I go deaf, it will still be tied to my memories and provide funny or sad points of reference for my experiences, and I’ll probably still get it stuck in my head. I like to think that cut-up artist, WFMU DJ and shameless Beatles completist Vicki Bennett knows how I feel.

She’s still a crack humorist and reinterpreter, but Bennett, circa Welcome Abroad, shows all the classic signs of going through a serious rough patch. The album was laid down during the 2010 Icelandic Ash Cloud Event and subsequent airline grounding, which annihilated her touring schedule. When all you want to do is get from where you are to anywhere else, and all flights are cancelled for reasons for which no human can be blamed, you might just pout, or you might open your overworked laptop and create a collage (is it OK to say “bastard pop” or “mash-up” anymore?) of Carly Simon’s “Nobody Does It Better” and Elton John’s “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” that somehow conveys your simultaneous love and irritation with the pop songs you hear at every airport and the profound loneliness of spending most of your time in transit.

I like to think I know how she feels. For the last six months, I’ve been adrift. I left a city I love and now I claim no permanent base of operations. My moments of rest, in a Nevada pump ‘n’ munch, a New Jersey airport or a Utah diner, have been punctuated, always, with the familiar, often grating pop music of the last 60 years. But travel does things to my perception, causing certain words (“home,” “goodbye,” etc.) to jut out, and irritatingly recognizable hooks to take on a new, lonesome, even occasionally poignant cast. And it works best with, say, ‘60s Spector creations and ‘70s schmaltz, if only because I’d gotten so adept at tuning them out before.

I get the feeling, from Welcome Abroad, that People Like Us can dig it. “Wandering,” the undeniable centerpiece here, meshes “Born Free,” Lee Marvin’s Paint Your Wagon star-turn “Wandering Star” and the old kiddie tune “I Can Sing a Rainbow,” and it just breaks my heart, over and over. It reminds me that I’ve spent the last year in transit from somewhere to somewhere else, that I’ve grown accustomed to instability and exhaustion, that I’ll wake up tomorrow feeling much the same thing, and that it was not always thus. There were times when this cornball pop music meant nothing, or something entirely different, than it does in Bennett’s hands.

As much of a bummer as this thing is, at least in the context in which I’m experiencing it, PLU’s main gift, aside from cuttin’ and pastin’, is high-concept levity. So, immediately after “Wandering” we get “Seven Hills of Rome,” an over-the-top gruesome travelogue rendered by Bennett and frequent collaborator Ergo Phizmiz as a droll Monty Python sketch. If you can’t go home, you can always poke fun at your own ahnghst, if only to downplay your sensitivity and kill a few hours.

By Emerson Dameron

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