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Sunday, September 12, 2010

The Coast Is Never Clear

The song over the closing credits of Youth in Revolt sounded familiar, so I waited through to the music credits to see what it was. It's a song called "Popular Mechanics for Lovers," by a band named Beulah. I realized I have a CD by Beulah, so I dug it up and saw that that very song is on the CD, The Coast Is Never Clear. I hadn't listened to the album in ages, probably not since shortly after I bought it, but I remember liking it, so I put in in the CD player and gave it a listen. Then I looked up Beulah up on Wikipedia, and found that they have long broke up. I also saw that the CD in question was released on September 11, the very day I was not listening to it. September 11, 2001.

I have no memory of how I came to learn about Beulah, or where and when I bought the record--wait, if I go to Amazon I see that I purchased it on through them on January 30, 2002--but I do remember that their sound was much like The Shins, whose Oh, Inverted World was released the same year. The Shins have gone on to much later acclaim (after all, they got a shout out from Natalie Portman's character in Garden State) while Beulah slipped into obscurity. But The Coast Is Never Clear is a terrific record, full of catchy pop hooks. It's only on closer examination that the strangeness of the record is evident.

"Popular Mechanics for Lovers" is a perfect choice for Youth in Revolt. It's a perfectly constructed pop song about a guy who loves a girl but is in rivalry with someone else: "Just because he loves you too/He would never take a bullet for you/Don’t believe a word he says/He would never cut his heart out for you." These are the words of any typical teenage boy who pines over an unattainable girl in the dark of his room, and the overly dramatic nature of the lines are understandable. But the other songs on this album, though they sound just as sunny and cheerful, have a much more malignant lyrical content.

There is no lyric sheet accompanying the disc, but I've checked the lyrics online, and after several spins the import of them has seeped through. The album, with its pessimistic title, starts with "Hello Resolven," which has a fairy-tale gloss, with "Wake up the king, wake up the queen," but then the last verse switches to "Kill off the king, kill off the queen, everybody laugh, everybody sing." The second song, ominously titled "A Good Man Is Easy to Kill," is very sunny, complete with a flute, but the lyrics appear to be about the singer's friend who was in a horrific car crash, and includes the line: "Don't know about God, but I believe in you."

The album continues in this vein. "Gene Autry," the song named after the singing cowboy of yore, includes the refrain, "Everybody drowns, sad and lonely." By the time the record is over you want to give the singer a hug.

Despite the dichotomy of music and lyrics, The Coast Is Never Clear is a fine album. I'm glad I had the occasion to resurrect it out of my collection.

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