I Blame You is one hell of a name for song or an album. In fact, They Might Be Giants released a very lovely song called “I Blame You” (for a film soundtrack, I believe) a few years back. And now Obits, the new band from Rick Froberg (he was in Drive Like Jehu and Hot Snakes, neither of which have I listened to) has released an album called I Blame You that features a song called “I Blame You.” My excitement about the title track diminished immediately upon hearing that it is, in fact, an instrumental. The overwhelming feeling I get that Obits squandered an opportunity there is, in retrospect, illustrative of my general attitude toward Obits, a band that very obviously loves two things: Dick Dale and the Stooges.
So Obits’ I Blame You is ostensibly a guitar record and one that has those surfy guitar runs but still tries to have the shambolic edge of, say, Raw Power. But Obits don’t have a James Williamson. And Froberg’s voice is high and screamy, not quite the wounded howl of Craig Extine or the cocksure snarl of early Iggy Pop, but not really an emo wail either. There’s a lot of potential on I Blame You, but it never quite manages to get beyond its influences; if you like Raw Power (and you should if you like rock ‘n’ roll at all), you’ll probably want to listen to that more than you’ll want to listen to I Blame You. If you like Dick Dale, well, I guess you see where I’m going with this. Although I have to say that surf guitar and surf music in general is baffling to me. Never dug it. I get that the Beach Boys had outstanding harmonies and stuff but I just don’t give a shit about anything they sang about. And yeah, “Miserlou” is pretty interesting the first time you hear it, but I would never want to listen to a whole album of that. So if you think I’m committing some act of blasphemy by saying Dick Dale and the Beach Boys are overrated, maybe you’ll like Obits. And maybe you thought the Cream reunion was something other than a powerful embarrassment.
It’s hard to make out what Froberg is up to lyrically because he pronounces words in unusual ways. I didn’t know, for instance, that he was singing “two-headed coin” on the song “Two Headed Coin” until I read the title of the song. I get the sense that these songs are about being an outsider and about being in trouble romantically. Or something. It all seems like very generic classic rock, the sort of stuff that was handled well enough for me between Exile on Main Street and Raw Power. I don’t need another album’s worth of what Obits has to offer. I mean, “Talking to the Dog” is a pretty all right song, but it reminds me of the Rolling Stones’ “Rocks Off.” Which I would rather listen to. “Light Sweet Crude” is sung in a way that makes me want to listen to last year’s Old Haunts album, particularly “Hurricane Eyes.” And so on.
It’s not that I Blame You is a terrible album, or even all that bad. It’s just… a thoroughly middling record. Nothing on this album gets me excited; although I suspect the guitar work is supposed to, me being a guitar player and all. And I like heroic riffs as much as the next guy, but Obits don’t blow the roof off the joint in that respect either. Not like, I dunno, The Hold Steady. And I’m also not one of those guitar players who thinks that the only good rock music features loud guitars and noodly solos through every single second of every single song. I like some nuance in my guitar playing, which is why Mick Jones and Peter Buck are two of my favorite guitar players. I like guys who know what to play when, and who know when not to play.
There are good bits on I Blame You. “Lilies in the Street” is a chugging little ditty that actually gets up somewhere near noticeable. It’s a late-coming high point for an album that is mostly, unfortunately, forgettable. “Back and Forth” is okay too, but it also makes me miss Exile On Main Street. So Obits are always either pushing me toward other, better albums or just boring me to the point that I tune them out. I literally drift off during this album, scanning my book shelf for something to read or thinking about which album I want to write about for my next installment of The Best Albums Released in My Lifetime (it may or may not be a little album by Neutral Milk Hotel. But here’s the problem – having mentioned it, I’m now thinking about Neutral Milk Hotel and not the album I’m listening to). I know there are people out there who think you don’t need to be completely absorbed by music for it to be good. But you know what? I fucking do. Why on earth would I write a music blog that 6 to 9 people (on average) read if I wasn’t completely consumed by a love of music? And, being a passionate lover of music, why would I want to listen to something that doesn’t fuel my passion? Obits doesn’t put the fire out, but it’s a damp, mossy log when I need a month-old Christmas tree – something that will go up in flames with little or no provocation. That’s not to say that all music I love has to be high-octane rock music – some of the most exciting music I own is by John Coltrane and Gustav Mahler. The point is, really, that I need albums that I’m excited to listen to and not albums that have me scanning the track listing to see how many tunes I’ve got left before I can listen to something really great. When it starts to feel like work, I stop. And since I listen to every album I review while I’m writing about it (and several times before I write about it), I need to stop writing about Obits now.