by Stephen Hubbard, Network, December, 1996
Technology's a weird thing. Seems every time something comes along that's supposed to be a major advancement, there's a reaction against it. In the music biz, the advent of CD technology meant that artists could extend single albums to lengths that, in the past, were unimaginable. Thus, the 70-minute album - often containing sub-standard material that wouldn't have made the cut in the old 45-minute days - was born. Lately, however, artists are starting to turn the clock back to the days when listening to an album didn't require a large chunk of your day.
A case in point is The Wonderful World of..., the latest release from The Pursuit of Happiness, a delightful throwback to another age, when brevity was considered a virtue in songwriting. Though still featuring Moe Berg's distinctive wordplay and once again examining the bizarre nature of human relationships, World is the band's most overtly pop album; a 13- song suite in which there is no separation between tracks.
"We've always been a pop band so I don't think that part of it's so unusual, although we may have leaned a little more in that direction this time because it made sense - the idea behind the record was that it was kind of like one long song - and because the template for those kind of records was classic pop music, like the second side of Abbey Road," he explains.
And though long-time fans of the band (which includes guitarist Kris Abbott, bassist Brad Barker and drummer Dave Gilby) may assume the title is drenched in irony, it's actually a fair representation of Berg's approach to this album. "Well, it definitely is our most upbeat album ever - lyrically and musically - but, as in most things in life, it starts off quite positive and tends to get worse as it goes along," he says.
Indeed, to suggest that World contains nothing but lightweight pop would be to commit a grave disservice to Berg's clever, often blunt, observations on romance, love and sex - and the politics that always fuck them up. "The Truth," the album's closing cut, is a hilarious and remarkably accurate depiction of a relationship in shambles and the accompanying analysis and assignment of blame that inevitably follow. It's also the album's funniest track as the pissed-off protagonist declares: "You're not smart enough for Shakespeare/ But hip enough to think Merchant of Venice is racist...so now that the truth's come out/ I hated you first/ You say you hate me now/ But baby, I hated you first."
Other tracks, like the aggressive first single, "She's the Devil," and the straight-ahead "Hate Engine" also offer a cynical view of love, while songs like the catchy, Beatlesque "Tara" and the bouncy "I'm Just Happy To Be Here," take a more positive tact. But whatever the sentiment, it's expressed (with a couple of exceptions) in under three minutes, and frequently in less than two.
"The reality of today's world is that I think most people just aren't going to make it through these 70- minute albums in one sitting; they'll hear the first six songs 20 times and the last six a few times, so the idea with this record was to format it so that a person could listen to the entire thing in one sitting," says Berg, flashing a smile. "And since it's just over a half an hour it's definitely something people can get through without much effort."
Warm, articulate and funny, Berg seems a lot less neurotic than the protagonists in his songs: geeks perpetually searching for answers to the mysteries of love. and though some people think his persona - that of a nerdy guy who still finds it hard to talk to girls - is an affectation, Berg's genuinely grappling with and enthralled by the complicated nature of the male-female dynamic.
"Interaction between the sexes is a game. There's a weird set of rules that men and women follow. Basically, the rules are don't act like yourself, act in a way that you think the other person will respond to...I've got into incredible difficulty in my life just trying to act like myself and express my real feelings."
© 1996 Canadian Controlled Media Communications