Monday, May 23, 2011

Mumble- Hepburn

Whereas Eric Johnson's previous band, The Gutterleaves leaned more towards a Cow Punkish style, Mumble had a stripped down sound with the drums prominent in the mix and the guitars pushed to the back.  Eric Johnson is another one of those guys who has been around the local scene for some time, he is currently fronting The Rivet Gang, an acoustic group that plays old timey American music in a traditional style. Johnson was an associate of The Ant Farmers and you can hear his influence in The Ant Farmer's music, just as you can hear The Ant Farmers influence on Eric's music.  Mumble consisted of Eric Johnson, Mike Gerwin and Steve Sargent, "Hepburn" came out in 1994 and I believe that this was the band's only album. "Hepburn" was released on Nipsey Records (the Ant Farmer's label) recorded in Albuquerque. 

It was mixed by Dave Williams, who must get credit for Steve Sargent's powerful drum sound on this album.  It's the drums and some great twangy guitar that propel the opening track "Plastic Diamond Ring" It's a song about a failed relationship and the inability of both principals to let go. "A long straight line stretched between our homes, divided by exit signs and overpasses." Eric wonders why "She calls me every night on the phone" he seeks solace of sorts "I know flowers won't make everything alright, i'm sure they'll  make me feel a whole lot better."  If you ever need a song for a sunny day, "Candy Apples" will do the trick. The drums are still the driving force, but now the guitars chime with jangly exhilaration. "The smile on her face and she's happy as a clam, feeling great and thinking about the county fair she went to as a kid."  innocence lost is never regained.
 "Stayin' in Overnight" stumbles out of the gate, it's a fast paced number that has the band working hard to pull it together. It could be an ode to the simple pleasures of a sandwich (or as Scared of Chaka calls them: sangwich) "Politicians are like cool nights, they can fool the leaves on the trees and me, and I'm stayin' in overnight." Note to self: after several beers and bong rips, don't leave the house, DUI's are a bitch. After this, Eric dives headfirst into the pool of whine, the question is can he break the surface to take a deep breath and regain his senses? "Audrey Hepburn" is a perfect example of why you shouldn't let your girlfriend drag you to a chick flick. "I can't see Breakfast at Tiffany's it always makes me want to cry" then when you break up those movies haunt you like cinematic doppelgangers. To this day the sight of Demi Moore with her legs wrapped around a pottery wheel, makes me cry like a baby. Was this the first song to mention Breakfast at Tiffany's?, if not, it's certainly the best. 

"Where I Used to Be" has Eric's girl dumping him because she wants her space, now he's a wreck "Freedom is a strange thing who is he that i see hanging on your arm where i used to be" she's a switch hitter, the next time he sees her it's "who is she that i see hanging on your arm where i used to be" fuck it,  dude you're better off without her.  "Today" is the last song in Eric's whinefest trilogy that began with "Audrey Hepburn." It sounds like he's suffering from a break-up hangover, what he needs to do in order to get back on track is to take matters into his own hands and then move on. While "She Stole my Heart" sounds like it might be more of  the S.O.S. it's actually a garage band rocker complete with fuzz guitar, "One time she stole my heart, now I want it back" I think it shows great emotional growth and progress, for someone who just had his heart impaled on a sharpened stick.
"My Favorite Backyard" returns to the muscular formula that made the album's first two songs work so well. Steve Sargent's drums jump out at you, Eric's voice gets help from some nice guitar work, the combination of which almost overcomes some rather inane lyrics. Eric Johnson did not have a good voice on this album, throughout he uses a thin monotone and a clipped cadence. When this approach works, it works well (Plastic Diamond Ring, Candy Apples) but when it fails, it fails big time. "Counter Clockwise" suffers from Eric's vocal limitations, he awkwardly stretches out the line "Firemen don't really save cats from trees" it's the vocal equivalent of trying to force a small shoe onto a big foot.  For the first time on this album, instead of propelling the song, Sargent's drums throw it off, it sounds like Steve was using fucking ham-hocks for drum sticks. 

"Paintings" was a bad idea turned into a bad song. "Last American Love Song" is a sing-song narrative, that works because Eric keeps his vocals under control, the song's real redeeming quality is that cool and languid guitar sound.  "Pool Song" refers to a pool hall and not a swimming pool, Eric tries to recreate the easy flow he found on "Candy Apples" but fails to do so. He then throws in a weird hiccup that sounds like a chihuahua dog's yelp, it's ill advised and annoying as hell.  Is this a Top Fifty album (remember by Top 50 album list?) not really, it's too derivative and uneven to merit that. Mumble like The Gutterleaves wasn't the complete package, the vocals, the lyrics and the whiny tone all combine to bring "Hepburn" crashing down like the frigging Hindenburg, which if I recall went down in a blaze of glory.