Today we re-visit my old friends Poor Old Lu. The album for today is their first album on any kind of label (their first album was “re-released” later in their career since they initially did everything independently for that one), and more than being a smash debut, it was kind of a collection of the best they had written up to that point. For that reason, it’s perhaps a little less polished or cohesive than the other albums, but for a long time it was my favorite album by anyone ever of all time, so that’s saying something, I guess.
Much like Sin, the album has a variety of styles and a lot of energy, and the overall sound can’t really be confused with any other band, which is refreshing if you listen to an awful lot of music. The unique points of Poor Old Lu are mainly in the singer and drummer. Scott Hunter is quite a unique vocalist, though this has been cited as a detriment as much as a benefit to the band’s sound (people who call it a detriment should be drawn and quartered, however, just saying). Basically, his voice is gruff and very raspy, as if he’d spent the first 20 years of his life screaming over the sound of train engines. However, his vocal style is delicate and usually in the falsetto range, so the result is something like a very dangerous whisper. It works quite well for the overall sound, especially when he goes for a rocker-esque “OWWW”, which he does often enough to make it something of a signature.
The drumming is just manic, the guy hits everything he’s got as often as possible. It’s magical, really.
All right, on to the album. The band starts off rather adventurously with “More”, a chunky, riffy, diminished-chord wonder which works really well to open the album up (despite everything else being a bit more “standard” in the way of chord progressions). It might have been a mistake to make it their first single, as the band themselves put it, but I enjoy it quite a lot in the grand scheme of Mindsize. The next song, however…
We have “All Pretty For The T.V.“, possibly the band’s best single, if that honor does not go to “Bliss Is” from Sin. It opens up with something I have never done quite this way: the guitar strums a barre chord Em, and then the harmonics on the 7th fret are played rhythmically (if you don’t understand all this, I shan’t bother to explain it). It actually took me a LONG time to learn how to do that on my own guitar, as I had no idea what was going on. It also helped to tune the guitar down a half-step, as the whole album is pitched-down to that (actually I think the band tuned their instruments flat, a fairly popular move). The particular things I love about this song are numerous. For one, the vocal melody is quite creative and contains some “OW”s that rival Michael Jackson’s best work. For two, the guitar riff mentioned above, which is altered to distorted power chords for the verse and switched out entirely for almost country-picking for the chorus. The fancy drums and playfully-following-the-guitar bass is also done to great effect, and the bass even gets kind of a one-note solo that you shouldn’t think I didn’t notice. I have no idea what the samples in the middle of the song mean or even say, but I will say they are replaced in live concerts by a rapper who sometimes joins the band for that segment. This can be heard on In Their Final Performance and any video of the song being played live that you happen to find. It’s…. not as good as the samples, usually, but I’m not one for mixing rap into my rock music.
The next song is a bass-tastic wonder called “So Good To See Me”, which is a bit more of a straightforward song than its predecessors, and for that reason may be shunned and ignored by the masses (as well as the band itself apparently). Moreso the shame, it’s a very good song and if you skip it you won’t get to hear those great rhythmic screamy bits after the chorus.
There really aren’t a lot of Christian bands who dare to write about God in the 1st person, that is to say, through the eyes of the Man Upstairs. “In Love With The Greenery” is one such song, and it’s actually from their very very very first thing they ever did, in the 80′s, no less! I don’t know how old these guys were when they wrote this fiery number, but I know I wasn’t writing songs this good at that age.
Another older song is “Sometimes Cry”, which has been improved upon a bit, but is more or less the same song as on Star Studded Super Step, and in fact that album’s title is derived from the lyrics to this song. I would go on about how good the lyrics are, because they really are, but “Star Studded Super Step” pretty much sums it up. This song contains one of the first bass-lines I ever learned, but it’s not the first Lu song I learned on bass.
“Do I?” is the first song I learned on the bass. It opens up with plucked octave notes that move in a simple progression, but it’s so catchy that only the even catchier phase-shifted guitar part can draw attention away from it. The lyrics are dark, very dark, in fact probably the darkest on the album, as they allude to depression, possibly suicide or drug use, and a deep need to be rescued from the mire that the very dense bass chords and waves of guitar represent quite nicely musically. The live version contains some screamy bits that are exquisite, but were not thought up in time for the album.
Scott Hunter, the lead singer and sole writer of Poor Old Lu’s lyrics, considers “Tried & True” to be possibly the weakest song on the album, and really I can’t help but agree. It’s got an immensely fun bass-line if you’re into bass, but really nothing else is “striking” about this song, even the lyrics are just a straight up “Winners Don’t Do Drugs” kind of message, so it’s perhaps William S. Sessions‘ favorite track on the album.
Moving on, “Cruciality” is another unique number, as it focuses on a very country/western-style guitar riff, but the rhythm is very much Poor Old Lu. The lyrics, sung in quite a high whisper indeed, are among the best on the album. It’s simply about putting “causes” (particularly political ones) above one’s own spirituality, and it has a particular line that I quite like:
Turn my eyes, and to the stars
Is there life so very far?
Or better, is there any very near?
The song nearly blends right into the next track, “To Be Awake”, which is very acoustic-guitar centered, which is rare for an early Poor Old Lu song. It’s got some of the tightest bass/drum action, as the drums seem to be focused on accentuating rather than embellishing, whatever that means. The lyrics are also some of my favorites, despite being rather simple, but it hits one chord with my philosophy on life and it rings quite loudly:
This world wants to drown me with
The things it’s thinking of
So now I don’t want to see or breathe
In this place that cannot love
And I would rather lose my life
Than to ever, ever lose my mind
But in this world, in this land
It’s our thoughts that we cannot find
That about says it all for me. This song is also featured on Star Studded Super Step and is great on both versions, just a much cleaner, full recording version is on Mindsize, so it’s the better version, I feel.
We then go into a room full of instruments and 4 lads playing them with everything from hands to feet to a jungle rhythm for “Tigger’s Daily Jog”. It’s a one-minute instrumental that works quite well as a segue from the folksy rock to the straight up funk that’s about to be introduced by Bob Ross:
“Let’s get crazy… hmm….. leeeet’s get crazy.”
Said in his trademark smooth hippy voice, the Bob Ross sample gives way to the funk-slappity bass-line and wah guitars that open up “Peapod”, another Star Studded Super Step song, this one is just as fun, if maybe not as dense lyrically (the chorus is literally “It’s all right” repeated many times). The breakdown at the end features one of those little plastic laser guns you could buy that made the little bleepy bloopy noises, and I love that, since I had one of those when I was a kid.
Finally, the album ends with the unfortunately-titled “Shine”. I say “unfortunate” because there are at least a dozen alternative rock bands from the 90′s with songs entitled “Shine”, and I can’t really explain why. Well, this is the best one anyway, and it not only features acoustic guitar, but piano! The lyrics are perfect for an “ending” song and would only be trumped by a later Lu album. The song is about being distracted by a world that “can only turn so many times”, and despite the dire state of one’s mind as one struggles through life with the questions dealing with our very existence, the singer still says “I know where I belong”.
Indeed, Mindsize might not be Poor Old Lu’s “best” album, but in 13 years of listening to it, I’ve never had any trouble listening to the whole thing all the way through, and I always feel better for it.