Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Not Any Man In America: How Blue October Almost Lost Us . . .

The Good: Emotional intensity, Duration
The Bad: Thematically repetitive/specific, Nothing extraordinary on the music or vocal fronts
The Basics: With Any Man In America, Blue October beats to death the angst and anger surrounding Justin Furstenfeld’s divorce and custody battle in a musically uncompelling way.

My wife is a big fan of the band Blue October and, as a result, I have gotten into the band’s works a bit myself. That my wife actually declared the band her favorite at one point made it easy to buy her gifts for a few holidays and menoversaries. At least, that’s what I thought until I started flooding her with Blue October albums. One of the absolute misses that has collected dust on our shelves for years is Any Man In America. I recall at the time being thrilled that I was able to get Any Man In America for my wife on the day it was released and she got to hear it before all of her (non-pirate) friends. Since then, it has pretty much sat on the shelf with her going back to it about once a year to see if it has grown on her. It has not. So, I decided to give it a listen and see what I thought of it. After eight spinnings of the disc, I can see why.

Any Man In America is not as bad as it is specific and that makes it disappointing. Like the way Lilliane: Resurrection Of The Daughter (reviewed here!) captured the realism of therapy too closely to be either literature or entertainment (it reads more like a transcript of a therapy session in all the gruesomeness that entails), Any Man In America has a limited audience because of how focused it is on tackling a very specific area of human trauma and interaction, in this case divorce and a custody battle. While this might be the absolute bible album for those who have fought for custody against a promiscuous, junkie, liar of an ex-wife while getting screwed over by the courts, because it is essentially a concept album dealing with that alone, it utterly flops with the rest of us. While I can relate to the angst of divorce and appreciate a good break-up album, Any Man In America is not that; it’s lead singer and writer Justin Furstenfeld’s angry rants about his ex-wife fighting him for custody. More than universal, it is offputting and unfortunately boring.

With thirteen tracks clocking out at an hour and two minutes, Any Man In America is verymuch the work of the band Blue October. All of the songs were written by lead singer Justin Furstenfeld. Furstenfeld provides the lead vocals on all of the tracks, though there are guest vocalists on “Any Man In America” and “The Follow Through.” The instrumental accompaniment comes from the band Blue October, including Justin Furstenfeld on guitars. The album was produced by Tim Palmer, who also played additional guitars on Any Man In America, so it seems like the band liked his work and this is very much their vision at the time.

Unfortunately, the album is pretty much over after the second track, “The Feel Again (Stay).” “The Feel Again (Stay)” is poetic, universal and compelling. It effectively sells the album, but like so many bands that try to sell a single, the track is not indicative of the sound and feel of the rest of the album. Any Man In America becomes a litany of complaints – including samples of the subjects involved – about Justin Furstenfeld’s ex-wife and the way she pursued custody of their daughter. Vocally, Justin Furstenfeld gives listeners nothing that he has not on any of the other, previous, Blue October albums. He growls, sings melodically occasionally and talks his way through tracks alternatively. But there is no test to his comfortable range, register or duration of notes. If you’ve heard any other Blue October album, Justin Furstenfeld’s vocals are instantly recognizable (though on “The Money Tree” there are moments he actually sounds like the lead singer of The Bloodhound Gang).

Instrumentally, Any Man In America is the standard rock and roll sound Blue October is known for. Outside the rap added to the end of the track “Any Man In America,” the sound of the album is exactly what one would think of Blue October producing . . . save none of the songs outside “The Feel Again (Stay)” have a truly memorable tune.

Lyrically, Any Man In America peaks early with “The Feel Again (Stay).” The song can be interpreted as a wrenching poem about loss in general and Furstenfeld has decent imagery on it. When he sings “I see the world keep moving as I stumble / They seem to move much faster than me / And while I sit in my four cornered room, dividing hearts for our little girl / While I can't be anything but who I am / And I wish you'd stay / Well that was the beginning of the two of us, the start of our show / Stay stay stay / No I would never have let go“ (“The Feel Again (Stay)”), it is easy to empathize with Furstenfeld.

Unfortunately, the rest of the album is angry and autobiographical the rest of the time. Furstenfeld loses points for his imagination when he makes lists against his ex-wife like “You won't be a part of what we need to be / Not for me, for the future of us three / For our daughter college, family, sudden-health emergencies / You think it's easy pickin' money off my Money Tree? / With two houses, both cars, / I paid off your fucking credit card debt, / Did you already forget? Huh? “(“The Money Tree”). Sadly, the album has a repetitive quality to it as it reiterates many of the same concepts in the subsequent song “For The Love” and then other songs.

It’s clear that Justin Furstenfeld is passionate about what he is singing about and that he even cares about some of the larger political issues surrounding his personal struggle. Outside the personal venting, there is some merit to his observations, “So I kept my business quiet / Just like my lawyer said. / And I tried to focus all / My anger in my work instead. / I was succeeding at self reliant / But inside my soul is dead. / I had to be the sole provider / But not allowed to be the dad. / Literally they took her from me. / Legally they did! They did! . . . Fuck the judge. Fuck that county / Fuck your family too.“ (“Any Man In America”). Even there, though, Furstenfeld falls down and he takes Blue October with him. The album is not about ANY man in America, it’s an album for all the non-deadbeat divorced dads. “Some Men In America” or “Some Men In This Situation” probably would not have sold as well as “Any Man In America,” but those titles are much more accurate as to the content of the album.

In the end, Any Man In America is a lackluster rock and roll album that is buoyed by one decent single and sunk by the remaining dozen. The best song is “The Feel Again (Stay)” and the low point is the sample track “Everything I Am (Limbo).”

For other Blue October albums, please visit my reviews of:
Approaching Normal
Ugly Side: An Acoustic Evening With Blue October


For other music reviews, please check out my Music Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2014 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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