Poor Old Lu – Star Studded Super Step

I guess, for no other reason than that it was the only thing I could think of, I am going to talk about another Christian album from one of my favorite Christian bands (in fact, in this case, one of my favorite bands period) that lacks the production values of the band’s hey-day, but is still solid.

This one’s always had a more profound effect on my life, however, than most albums, so let’s get to it! This is Poor Old Lu’s “first” album, Star Studded Super Step:

Oh highschoolI suppose it’s in the nature of things that, no matter how many albums one may listen to from day to day, it’s always going to be the first ones that make the most impact on one’s life. Indeed, around the time I was listening to Star Studded Super Step, I had maybe 10 cd’s and a further 10-20 cassettes to choose from in my daily listening. Comparing that to here and now, over 10 years later, where I’ve got this Mp3 player with 900 albums and a total of about 12,000 songs, it’s kind of amazing to see how far we’ve come. Even more amazing is that there are not a whole lot of those 12,000 songs that mean quite as much to me as the 14 that make up this thing.

I’m sure that such a thought was not going through the heads of the 4 kids, all high-school age at the time, when they set about to record this album. I will say, however, that this crazy dedication to making some music was there, it had to be, these guys were barely old enough to drive and had 1 full album (as “Bellbangvilla”) and a 3 song Poor Old Lu demo under their belt. To put that into perspective, I haven’t been in high-school in about 10 years, and I have exactly 0 albums and a 1-song demo that the internet almost never credits to me.

Still, I might not have ever learned how to play instruments if it weren’t for Star Studded. I don’t know what it is about it, perhaps it’s the raw production (recorded on borrowed equipment in a then-unused classroom in a church) that was a bit of an inspiration, perhaps it’s the simplicity of the actual music, since, well, it was written by highschoolers. I think, more than anything, these songs just spoke to me in a way that made me think that I could sit down and learn this stuff and maybe write a few of my own in reply.

Yes, I often credit Hot Tuna and various other groups for being my main influence when it came to playing bass, but that’s only because they influenced my uncle, who in turn was a more direct influence on the way I would learn to play. Poor Old Lu, however, is the only direct influence on my playing, and it’s this album, which I learned note-for-note in the mid 90’s, that would conveniently lend to me a sound that bands like Hot Tuna would help me to embellish upon. So, if it could ever be said that I’m a decent bassist, I have this album to thank for that.

I could go on about the songs, as there are some really good ones on here, but the track-by-track write-ups are starting to lose the effect I intended for them. I will say that, though the bass (being mixed a little louder on this album compared to most rock albums) is practically the main feature, the instrumentation all around is pretty damned impressive when you consider the age of everyone involved, and then multiply that by the fact that they recorded the entire thing by themselves. Say what you will about “indie” music, this album is true independence, an album born out of a real desire to actually make an album.

A lot of the songs would actually make it onto other releases, specifically the albums Mindsize and Sin, so there’s no real reason to go over them in great detail again. The album starts off with “Sometimes Cry”, which would later appear on Mindsize, and features some overlapping insanity toward the end thanks to a neat trick on the 8-track the band borrowed for this recording. The album also has the 2nd of a total of 3 or 4 re-workings of the songs “Cannon-Fire Orange” with its nice spanish sound and mysterious lyrics.

Other songs that appear on Mindsize are “Peapod” (in a particularly rough mix this time), “To Be Awake”, and “Tigger’s Daily Jog (Unrated)”, the last of which is more of a tribal-sounding instrumental jam on obscure instruments.

The songs that are unique to Star Studded are unique indeed. There really hasn’t been a song in the Poor Old Lu catalogue quite like “Bartholomew Higgins”, it’s dark and heavy and seems to borrow a bit from a kind of Middle Eastern scale, and a little bit from Nirvana. The title, according to the band, is a nonsense name suggested by a family member, which is likely true, though that family member might have gotten it from a comic book, albeit a quite obscure one.

Another song that would make a later appearance, though in concert, is “Never Said”. It’s a bouncy, acoustic-guitar and bass driven song that is rough and mysteriously catchy. The main thing about the song is that it has this bridge that kind of turns the whole thing on its nose, as it’s not really connected to the song and only contains the words “la da da da da dow”, but it would later conjoin this song and another song (from an album we’ll get to later) in a really cool medley. This is a trick I’ve never seen before in music, so you’ll have to forgive me if I’m still a little bit excited about it.

The middle section of the album, incorporating “This Theatre”, “Puddleglum”, “A Snowfallen Desert”, and the only “weak” track, I feel, on the album, “It’s Simple To Me”, is all good stuff, but doesn’t rock out quite as thoroughly as the first and last bits of the album. Still, the last bit of the album (at least in the second pressing of the album which contains 4 more tracks than the original release) is astounding. Starting with “Peapod” and “To Be Awake”, which is where the other version of the album ends, this version has two of my favorite songs as a bonus.

The first is “Center Of Your Ways”, which is an incredible song if you’ve ever heard it in concert. In this recording, it’s still quite respectable. It has a rolling bass-line that is quite catchy (since it’s at the forefront of the mix, it better be) and a cool guitar part, and Scott Hunter’s gruff-but-honest singing and interesting lyrics really tie the whole thing together. At the end is a really cool “punk rock out” section that apparently always tested the mettle of drummer Jesse Sprinkle, but that wound up working out for the tyke, as he later became the drummer for Demon Hunter, among some other groups. Either way, this song is one of my favorite “early” Lu songs, and I can’t imagine a Star Studded Super Step without it.

The other song, “Wherefore”, similarly rocks out in a unique way. It’s a bit more of a funky song (Lu incorporated a lot of funk in their sound, much to their benefit) and features some tandem riffing from the guitar and bass, which is just super cool to me. This song also kind of explodes at the end with a nice “big finish”.

But yeah, I can go on all day about this album, as I know the sound of it as well as I know the alphabet, and you could hear it too for around $2 to your local amazon dot com, but I can’t tell you whether you’re going to like it. How can I tell what a person is going to think of an unconventional album made by some truly talented highschoolers that I myself have been listening to for a large fraction of my life? I don’t know, but I guess that’s why, here at Album Du Jour, we don’t “review” albums, we just talk about them every day for reasons that are becoming more blurry with every passing album. Join us tomorrow for another one!

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2 Responses

  1. Just ran across your website. Very ambitious. Keep it up. I enjoyed your write-up of this album as well as ‘Extraordinary’ by johnny Q. public.

  2. Oh, Star-Studded….

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