I’ve always enjoyed Dan Bejar’s contributions to the New Pornographers, but I’ve pretty much never enjoyed his albums as Destroyer and his new album, Kaputt, soaked as it is in 80s soft rock, is not going to change that trend. The album reminds me of the horrible AM radio station I used to listen to when I was a little kid, curled up under my blankets with a pocket radio, back when I thought Eric Carmen was probably the biggest rock star on the planet (I’m getting embarrassed just writing about him now. Oh fuck it. Here’s the fucking video for “Hungry Eyes.” Don’t say I didn’t warn you, but for those of you who make it that far, there is no way that chick is really playing the saxophone).
Thing is, in the 1980s, soft rock was really the opiate of the masses. Greed and corruption were everywhere, the threat of nuclear war hung heavy over the U.S. and Russia (well, it did until Grandpa Reagan single-handedly won the Cold War against the Rooskies) and some people needed music that would just zap them into a daze so they could function without worrying that we’d all be doing the Dr. Strangelove ending any second. So soft rock came along with electronic drums, softly strummed acoustic guitars (or tastefully, sparingly placed electric guitars), and keyboards, oh lord, did soft rock ever come bearing keyboards! (Is my disdain for the keyboard in rock songs based in my 1980s upbringing? Could be, Dr. Freud. Could be.) Keyboards, synthesizers, and the keyboard’s retarded cousin, the keytar, which is the result of a guitar being raped by a keyboard and not being able to get a an abortion. I believe it is a secret love of keytars (and maybe a not-so-secret love of rape) that is fueling the House GOP’s current efforts to redefine rape so that poor rape victims (those who would need Medicaid to pay for their abortion, which happens roughly 50 times a year here in the U.S. One classy conservative lassy even suggested that women were filing false rape claims in order to get Medicaid to pay for their abortions. This is the kind of unsubstantiated bullshit that gets flung around constantly in this country and, lest you think I’ve wandered off topic here, I’d like to think soft rock is partly to blame – it anesthetizes the population so that otherwise decent people are rendered incapable of responding to such horrid nonsense) have to carry a constant reminder of their ordeal for nine months. I’m just sayin’, John Boehner (pronounced “Boner”) looks like a guy who enjoys a keytar.
But anyway, my problem with a lot of 80s music (I had lots of problems with that decade, both personal and cultural, but that stuff could fill a book) is that it sounds so fucking fake. It’s like a clean, neutered version of real rock or pop or jazz. Yes, I know there were good bands in the 80s, but they were the exception to the rule. So I’ve never understood why modern bands would want to make albums that sound like the 80s, and yet bands so often do that I feel like I will descend into old age fighting off the 80s with my trusty baseball bat. “Back,” I’ll cry, “Back, you frivolous bastard of a decade! Have at you!” If the 80s was a person, I would’ve had its ass in a shallow grave years ago.
Destroyer has taken a fairly novel approach to 80s pastiche – rather than aping the annoying synth/dance-pop of that walking dead decade, he’s opted to whisper his admittedly witty lyrics (I like the line, “It’s not a war until someone loses an eye”) over 80s-style soft rock and smooth jazz. Which means that Kaputt is basically an hour of Dan Bejar singing over the most boring music I have ever heard in my life. You could try to justify this album’s existence by suggesting that it’s a subversive attempt to show, through banal pop music, how nothing really changes in America or something, but that justification would 1) make me want to kick you in the shins and 2) still not make Kaputt musically “good.”
I know I’m probably in the minority as a person who recognizes Kaputt for what it is (a boring record). Every other review I’ve read of it has been downright effusive. Pitchfork’s Mark Richardson wrote that Kaputt sounds beautiful “once you’ve tuned in,” an assertion that is often made on Pitchfork to suggest that if you don’t like an album, it’s not that the album sucks. It’s that you’re too stupid to know how to listen to it properly. Maybe I don’t know how to listen to Kaputt. It’s mid-afternoon as I type this and so I’m not drinking myself into a stupor while listening to it; maybe that would help. But I doubt it. I knew before I heard Kaputt that I could be literally bored to tears and that I could be bored to sleep. This is the first time, however, that I have been bored into a fury.
With all due respect to Mark Richardson, it’s not that I haven’t “tuned in” to Kaputt. It’s that I literally can’t because the music is so boring I literally turn my attention to anything else that pops into my head like right now I’m just seeing how long I can continue to type this sentence without really thinking of anything but typing this sentence, which I admit must be fucking terrible for you poor bastards reading it but now imagine this horrible, horrible sentence as 1980s soft rock and you’ll basically have Kaputt and then – please god – then you will know the depth and breadth of my suffering. I spent almost an hour looking up Eric Carmen on the internet because I didn’t want to deal directly with this album.
And now here’s the really torturous part: I kinda get why people like Kaputt. It does have some okay melodies (“Poor in Love” is good) and, as previously mentioned, Dan Bejar is fairly witty. I don’t think Mark Richardson is trying to be willfully hip by liking this album – however, I suspect I could peg his age based on his review of Kaputt (between 35 and 50, Mark?). There’s nothing wrong with that, but I wonder if Richardson had similar youthful experiences to mine, listening to just whatever happened to be on the radio in the early 80s and digging it because he didn’t know any better. I’ve leveled a lot of wrath at Destroyer today and I still don’t like Kaputt, but I feel like being slightly fair (must be all that hanging around with my friend moonbeam) so I’ll leave you today with a little confession, just to even things up a bit:
When I was a little kid, I fucking loved “Hungry Eyes” by Eric Carmen. It’s not just that I thought, as I said earlier, that he was probably the biggest rock star in the world – it’s that I thought he should have been. I spent hours of my life that I can never have back being stunned to the point of outrage when people told me they’d never heard of him. When “Hungry Eyes” came on the radio, I would do nothing else until it was finished. I used to lay in bed at night willing the shitty AM radio station in Portland to play “Hungry Eyes.” I don’t love the song any more because I’m an adult, but back then… well, maybe I would’ve loved Kaputt back then too.