Wednesday, July 18, 2012

30 Songs, 30 Days (2012 Edition), Day Twenty Three: Completely Conspicuous by The Pursuit of Happiness

It's a Coulda-Shoulda-Been Bigger Band circa
the recording of the song discussed...
The Pursuit of Happiness remains one of my favorite bands, and it's a fine example of The Band That Is Killed By Its Early Success.

Pursuit--or TPOH as it was colloquially known by its fans--was an Edmundton-by-way-of-Toronto powerpop unit devised primarily as a vehicle for the idiot-savant-like genius of Moe Berg. While it's inherent Canadianness gave TPOH a little bit of a higher profile in its native country, we here in the States first became exposed to them through 'I'm An Adult Now,' a snarky, partially spoken word ode to struggling with growing old. It became something of a hit, wandering around the lower parts of the Top 40 in 1986....and then the follow-up single, "She's So Young," was launched, and most people realized that this wasn't a Funny Band Whose Lead Singer Made Jokes About Impotence, but a legitimate band with a real insight and a good trade in male/female harmonies. Berg and Co. struggled with their label, Chrysalis, and were dropped after the disappointing sales of their (admittedly artistically disappointing) second album, Two Sided Story. This led to their signing with Mercury, scoring another very minor hit with 'Cigarette Dangles, and then a spiraling out of control with two albums on Iron Music, a never-really-official break-up, Berg going off to write a rock opera, and the band kinda, sorta re-emerging in the last few years to record covers of Prince and do scattered shows in their native Canada. They never quite got over the disappointment most Americans had that they weren't the band 'I'm An Adult Now' promised, and is now a footnote in books about power pop and bad movies, as they were the featured legitimate band in the ill-advised sequel to Rock N' Roll High School, Rock N' Roll High School Forever.

Unlike the rest of Americans, I liked TPOH as a whole and sought out and eventually acquired all their albums. This song is from Where's The Bone, the first of the two Canadian-only albums they recorded for Iron. I actually feel that Bone is their best album (unlike everyone--including Razor And Tie--who toe the party line and claim that first album, Love Junk, is the only one worthwhile), containing a selection of songs that I get the impression are very personal without getting too personal like their final one, the embarrassingly confessional The Wonderful World of Pursuit of Happiness.

One of the reasons I liked Moe Berg's songwriting is the persona he adopts in most of his songs of the horndog who doesn't have the degree of control over his life he thinks he has, and 'Completely Conspicuous' is typical of that persona. This song takes the structure of Berg trying to defend himself to his significant other when he is caught talking to another woman. Berg's trademark whine jumps from protest to protest, coming up with justifications seemingly out of thin air (this is the 'modern world' of equality), then throws the situation back in his girl's face with his accusation of inequality when it comes to their social guidelines and the way she denigrates the woman he's speaking to, points out that this is why their relationship is in crisis...and yet, there are hints that the woman he's defending himself to has justification. This is demonstrated not only in the lyrics, but in the way we get female counterpoints whenever he stumbles back to the choral justification of 'she's just a friend'--followed by his admission that yes, he wishes she could be more.

I've always said that the female/male harmonies are something that makes TPOH stands out. Most line-ups--Berg has never seemingly been able to keep a female vocalist for long (I suspect Kris Abbot, who joined in 1988 is the only one who's last more than one album)--contain not one, but two female musicians who help him with this. And in the case of this song, the harmonies serve another purpose, namely to be the whisper in Moe's ear that reminds him that yes, he does have some nefarious purpose in talking to this woman. It's the typical Berg persona getting him in trouble again, and trying to scamble to recover when it all goes wrong.

I'm pretty sure everything TPOH is out of print, although the albums are available at some sites, including iTunes, digitally.  And if you're curious about the band, you can visit Incompletely Conspicuous, the official fan site, that contains a wealth of information including a massive amount of rare and live mp3s....

No video for this one...but here's one from the single for this album, the nasty 'Young And In Love'....

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