By Jason Wojciechowski on April 6, 2011 at 8:50 PM
I'm nervous about writing this post. On this blog and others, I've written about movies, TV, books, comedy, theater, and everything short of dance. What I haven't written about is music. I'm no more qualified to write about TV or movies than I am about music, of course, but being married to a screenwriter makes me feel that I have certain privileges. When that screenwriter's parents used to be rock critics, though, and when I've been law school friends with not one but two critics, I start to get a little nervous about looking like an idiot. Terrible film critics abound: I could replace Peter Travers this very moment and feel confident that I was doing a better job. But in music, there's a weird alchemy to what they do such that even compared to the most maligned (pick your "favorite" Pitchfork contributor) music writer, I feel inadequate to the task. The very best baseball writers, film writers, and general cultural critics (e.g. Stephen Marche at Esquire) have an accessibility that allows me to pretend that I could match them if I dedicated myself to the craft (and had good editors). I have no such pretensions about the possibility of becoming Lester Bangs or Tom Carson or Nick Tosches or Greil Marcus or (perish the thought1) Bob Christgau. Just pick a piece from Stranded. Any piece. Pick Ariel Swartley's joint on The Wild, The Innocent, & the E Street Shuffle. You don't even have to read the whole thing. The first paragraph will do. Are you back? I am. And I'm done. I'm not topping that. I'm not even getting within sight of that.
With the longest throat-clearing in the history of mankind aside, and with you fully aware of the fact that I'm vaguely mortified to even be thinking about doing this, I will proceed to tell you what I think of The Thrill Building's The Greatest Game In The World.
Per the press materials, The Thrill Building are from Nashville, led by Fran Kowalski, whose biographical paragraph includes the fact that he's worked with Alex Chilton.
One word, with a gun to my head, to sum up the 22-song album? "Earnest". This isn't a collection that uses baseball as a metaphor, or one that is in the least coy about its feelings. It is explicitly a tribute. The first song, the title track, repeats the phrase "the greatest game in the world" at you to the point where you start to feel a little demented for liking this stick-and-ball contest so much.
There's a bit of stylistic range here (as there'd better be -- did I mention that there are twenty-two songs?), but "range" is narrowly construed -- a few songs sounds like what might happen if Brian Wilson, the Beach Boy, were forced to pen a baseball tune in three hours or less; others sound like what might happen if Brian Wilson, the Giants closer, were given the same treatment.
The songs are mostly harmless, throwaway pop or rock that would fit right in on a compilation from a variety of groups -- I'd nominate the second track, "Baseball's Coming Back", to serve just that duty. The problem is that this album is 22 songs (let me know if I'm repeating myself) of the same exuberance and middle-of-the-road tunefulness from the same band.
For more reasons than one, I assure you. ↩