The Embarrassment - Blister Pop
My Pal God Records

It's not clear whether to praise The Embarrassment, or
whether to praise this particular compilation.  To
start off with, it can't hurt to say a few things
about The Embarrassments.  

The best answer to encapsulating the Embos into a genre is probably one of the answers they gave themselves when asked what sort of music they played...American Rock and Roll. With all that that entails. Their songs are sometimes smooth, sometimes deliberately choppy, sometimes very fast and sometimes heavy and brooding. They're fueled by guitar and drums and with sincere, intense lead vocals and sudden jabs from backing vocals. It is late-70s, early-80s geek angst, when geek hadn't yet been declared chic by Spin magazine, the angst of geeks who came of age a few years before geeks coming of age could count on jobs at Atari or HP. Back when a lot of geeks, especially those in the western midwest, still took liberal arts degrees. In other words it was back before "smart" and "technological bourgeoise" went hand in hand.
The music is brooding, alternating between a string of catchy riffs and sudden, throbbing, cutting in and out of tune and rhythm like early Gang of Four. The lyrics for their original songs say a great deal with a great economy of words, and rail against cultural monstrosities like bookstore teeshirts and coffeeshop chains that the corporate counter-culture would later come to embrace.
One of the most amazing things, though, and the thing that is fully brought to light in "Blister Pop" is the skill The Embarrassment displayed as musicians in performing cover songs. Probably the reason that it is so difficult to categorize The Embos (and the same is true for many other great bands) is that they were so damned good musically and played so many different styles so well that it's tricky to pick out a style and pin it on their asses. "Blister Pop" contains covers of the psychedelic anthem "The Time Has Come", Roy Prbison's "Pretty Woman", Jurassic pop gem "Maybe Baby", The Stooges' "I Wanna Be Your Dog", and a drunken-farouche cover of "Funtime". All of these covers manage to hold true to the original song, while coming off at the same time as a whole new entity. Their abililty to cover songs in such a way that you don't want to hear the original anymore but just want to hear their cover over and over reminds me of TS Eliot's quip, "bad poets borrow, good poets steal." Any song The Embarrassment covered was, thereafter, theirs. In fact, I never ever liked the song "Pretty Woman" until I heard their version of it.
Along with the covers, "Blister Pop" contains some unreleased material from The Embos' early days and live versions of some of their bread and butter repertoire. It's interesting to hear the evolution of some of the songs and even the songs which, contrary to the claims of guy who wrote the liner notes, don't *really* seem to have evolved a lot at all are certainly worth another listen in another, even only slightly different, form.
This is a very good compilation of songs by a very good band. The only other compilation I know of is "Heyday," and even people who already own that great big compilation would be unlikely to find "Blister Pop" a redundant purchase. It's one of those albums that can trick me into thinking wistfully of better times musically, until I remember that even back when The Embarrassment was in its prime, there weren't a hell of a lot of bands of their magnitude out there, and then I remember that at any point in time there will probably be about as many really really good bands, painters, writers, comedians, etc, in the world as at any other time and that the notion of a Golden Age is a false grail and the notion of a Viable Scene is the modern El Dorado, and then I need a drink. Excuse me.
...ron provine...

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