For a band named for the time limit of penalties in Hockey, “Five For Fighting” has made one hell of a stir in the pop music world. And it’s not a surprise to me, although no one seems to have expected their single “Superman” to become the hit that it has. But “Superman” is just one scene in a twelve track album that I feel is among the best released since 2000.
“America Town” mixes many genres, ranging from the gentle pop of “Superman (It’s Not Easy)”, all the way to the Americana of “The Last Great American”, and all the way back to the ironic in “Michael Jordan”. The best thing about this album, however, is that John Ondrasik has come up with a concept that plays like the music of a few short decades ago, where the word album meant a series of songs that fit together as a whole, rather than just as individual songs. It’s a gem in a field of mediocrity, with something for everyone young and old.
Start out with “Easy Tonight”, a track about a man who is failing in his relationship with a woman who seems to want to just be free. Ondrasik sings of how she was “Shot down / Said [she] never had a chance / Took a ride on a suicide romance . . .” which symbolizes the failing relationship. The man finds his way to move on, although it’s not easy. “Woman, I ain’t going to meet you anywhere / Don’t know where I’m going yet, but I sure am getting there.”
Then Ondrasik leads us into Bloody Mary (A Note On Apathy), a fairly upbeat track that blends a little country influence into a nicely upbeat pop song.
Then we find ourselves hearing “Superman (It’s Not Easy”, which has now become the “theme” for New York City firemen since the disaster of September 11. The song is a beautiful ode to anyone who feels they have to try to be everything for everyone, the superman in all of us. He writes “I can’t stand to fly / I’m not that naďve / Men weren’t meant to ride / With clouds between their knees / I’m only a man in a silly red sheet / Digging for Kryptonite on this one way street / Only a man in a funny red sheet / Looking for special things inside of me.” Isn’t that how we all are? I was touched by this song months before the disaster, but I have found a whole new meaning in it since then.
“America Town”, the fourth cut on the album, is a political song, symbolizing, it seems, America and our former sense of being invulnerable. “Used to get annoyed at the fire and the flag / Now it just seems old to me / (Everything is old to me) / And I know we’d kick your ass / But first I’d need a nap tonight / And know someone’s looking out for me.” Looking back it seems to speak of our nation’s complacency . . . or the complacency we used to have.
Next on the CD is “Something About You”, an unabashedly simple pop song that hooks you with the chorus: “Baby there’s / Something about you that / I can hold onto / I’m gonna hold onto that.” This track is the kind of song that just is itself, Ondrasik doesn’t try to make it be what it’s not.
Then the first half of the album closes out with “Jainy”, a heartfelt piano based song about love that is stronger than anything else. “Jainy stares at stars every night / Morning takes her eyes every time / And she’ll love you more than she can tell / Heaven help us now . . . / Seems you’ve finally found us, just as well.” This is a nice step in the progression, relaxing us at the midpoint of the album.
Now for my favorite track, “Michael Jordan”, an ironic song that hides under the disguise of being a song about hero worship. I get the idea that this song is really a description of how we always want what we can’t have, and would supposedly give “anything” to have or be what we’ve always wanted. Take this track for instance. The character is willing at first to give little things, like his hat, his coat, a TV, a remote, to be his idol, Michael Jordan. Then as he realizes he cannot have this, he starts to unravel: “My voice, My worm. My wife / A first born or two / I’d give the knife, My Mike if just / Cut me at the knees / My God (My Jordan) / I would give anything / To . . . Be . . . You.” I could apply this to any obsession, it’s all the same . . . and the way it is presented in this edgy and ironic song almost does justice to obsessions.
The next song, “Out Of Love”, is a rocking number about being out of touch with your life, but that everything can still be fine as long as you’ve got someone who loves you.
“The Last Great American” is one of the most subtly creative songs on the album. Singing of the so called last great American, who is named “Merry”, Ondrasik writes, “Mr. Merry cries in his coffin / For days he says he can remember / And through the town, the pallbearers sing old songs / Of a beautiful purple mountain / From every walk of life we’ve come / To see the last great American.” So Merry, who is a symbol of our greatest leaders, is supposedly dead and being buried. But wait! As the song progresses and it seems hope is lost, we reach the twist. “Merry reaches up, we bow our heads / He pulls the lid down and his stone is read / Here lies our Merry / The man with the heart so spent / That in this day and age / Is sick of living / And judges argue letters / And the fabric comes undone / For every daughter every son / Of the last great American.” So what I got out of this song is that when the people needed him, Merry realized that it was more important that he be there to support everyone, that his life was indeed worth living.
The album begins to wind down now as we hear “Love Song”, a wrenching, though upbeat, description of a child being torn between his fighting parents, and “Boat Parade”, a track that, to me, seems to be about paranoia and the constant obsession of trying to escape from the “monsters” of the world.
And then we find it, the gem at the end of the show, “Alright”. Another pop song of the upbeat persuasion, “Alright” is a perfect conclusion to this series of musical views of a world. The character writes of having problems, but of the redeeming sense that everything will be alright. “I hit my head upon the chamber door / And all the marbles rolled on the floor / And all the psychos in the ward started screaming, screaming, screaming . . . / Yeah, I’m alright, I feel alright / I’ve never been better in my life, yeah / You know the score / And I’m feeling fine, I’m fine / I’m feeling fine / A regular sawed off Valentine / That nothing more.” I felt that was a good way to tie it all togther and bring “America Town” to a close.
All in all, and I assume you could tell by the length of this review, I loved this album. I bought it on Monday and I’ve listened to it straight through at least a dozen times since (and it’s only Friday!) Of all the albums I’ve heard recently, “America Town” takes the cake, and I would recommend it to anyone who enjoys good music with a creative edge. Enjoy!
For more information go to: http://www.sonymusic.net/artists/FiveForFighting/index2.html