Bobby Conn - Macaroni

by Al Brown Rating:8 Release Date:2012-04-09

After almost two decades as the coke-addled clown-prince of the American indie scene, you couldn't blame Bobby Conn for giving up. Eighteen months ago I saw Conn and his band play in a local social club. We were in the snooker room - about 30 people there and no stage - the proper gig room had been requisitioned by a younger, stupider band. The crowd were unresponsive and someone kept yelling out for one of Conn's early songs but, not knowing the title, just kept shouting the only lyric he'd remembered, seemingly at random. The scene was set for a truly miserable gig.

But Bobby and his band destroyed. They were tight and they danced; they wore cheap soldier outfits that must have come from a sex shop and played with the kind of joyful effortlessness that 99.9 per cent of bands dream of, but none will ever achieve. The only time Conn betrayed a hint of disappointment was when he had to ask one of the clueless indie-dorks in the crowd to take off his duffle coat.

For the uninitiated, Bobby Conn often sounds like Sparks or an imaginary Rocky Horror Show sequel in which everyone is constantly being dosed with unfamiliar recreational drugs. Preposterous funk workouts give way to unfashionable easy listening tropes, cod-metal guitar posturing and gratuitous falsetto.

was voted the worst of all time by VH1 viewers: proof (and certainly none was needed) that VH1 viewers are subhuman scum.

Conn's heavy use of falsetto fails to annoy simply because, unlike all the beardy recluses hopping on that particular train, he has the presence to pull it off. He is the white Prince - Midwestern, vertically challenged, outrageously (and wonderfully) dressed and with a fine sense that what he is doing is vaguely ridiculous, and that the only way to do something ridiculous justice is to treat it with the utmost seriousness.

'More Than You Need' is his take on ELO's 'Mr. Blue Sky', but substituting that song's facile optimism for practical pessimism: "I know that you've been waiting for somebody to believe in/ I hate to let you know, there's no-one," he croons, careful not to let on whether he's gloating or being sympathetic.

'Underground Vktm' is a killer Talking Heads/Cars rip-off that seems to be about the fetishisation of obscure culture and disillusionment with the modern world. It's hard to imagine Conn is serious though: when he sings "And I'm sick of all the kids today/ a-typing on their phones", he could just be slyly mocking The Arcade Fire's propensity for po-faced lyrics on the same fuddy-duddy theme.

It's not all fun and games: 'Govt' is a forthright attack on right-wing conspiracy theorists and their often-ridiculous criticisms of the Obama administration. It makes some valid points but its repeated classic rock hook and atonal keyboard embellishments are tiresome, and that's even before you consider the minute-long funk outro. Conn's relationship with politics (and protest songs) is less-than-straightforward, as this quote from his Wikipedia page attests:

"I've always done lots of social commentary that I believe in pretty strongly but I am very uncomfortable with the role of the artist as a meaningful social critic... My whole generation [is] a confused group of people with an ambivalent way of dealing with protest."

Based on that, you could call him non-committal, but fascinating characters are allowed to be oblique; to retain some sense of mystery. There are a million singers out there for whom obliqueness and lyrical ambiguity are ends in themselves, but there are no multiple interpretations behind their lyrics, or even an interesting singular interpretation: they are like shop-fronts on the set of a Western.

Bobby Conn is the real deal: he's got a message and it's hopeful, depressing, self-aware and fun. And he's stuck playing to arseholes in snooker halls. Maybe you should go and listen to Laura Marling singing about a pirate ship or something, you ungrateful swines!

Overall Rating (0)

0 out of 5 stars
  • Guest

    Finally a reviewer that actually gets what Bobby Conn is doing! Read Pitchfork's terrible review of "Golden Era", probably Bobby's best album and one of the best albums of that decade. Its like it was written by an earnest 19 year old anarchist who wasn't sure if he should like it or not because it talks about racing helicopters and doing ecstasy and how there will be no revolution!

    Bobby Conn is trying to heal our psyches by embodying everything twisted and contradictory about our culture and turning it into total ass-freaky music and performance and commentary, and all we can do to thank him is listen to reverby indie songs about going to the beach, or worse songs about pirate ships played on banjos! While everyone is heading for the new escapist fantasy in an organic banjo ridden nightmare, Bobby Conn is the only one who is still dealing with the issues here and keeping it real!

  • Cheers dude. I listened to Golden Age on the bus today and imho it's the most consistent of his albums. Some of the intros are self-indulgently long etc. but it's almost part of his shtick I suppose. I love how that reviewer gets so offended at the song 'Whore(s)', bless 'im.

  • Guest

    Great to see that someone out there other than me thinks Bobby Conn does not get the credit he deserves. I saw him on the The Golden Age tour and the gig was one of the best of my life - I'd go so far as to say it changed the way I think about music. The Pitchfork review of that brilliant record turned me off the website for life - hipster, pretentious, self-important BS artists chasing their own tails while Bobby rocks the fabric of the universe.

    Can't wait to hear this one.