Dangerous Universe

You Am I, the world's greatest rock and roll band

By Matt Kelley

Here's what I found out, when (after wandering the world's musical landscape for years) I finally and unexpectedly stumbled upon You Am I, the world's greatest rock and roll band.

It all stems from a Bruce Springsteen mailing list I've been on since early '93. I noticed that one of the most ambitious and energetic contributors to the digest, one Johnny Savage, would tag his emails with lyric snippets (attributed to some band named YOU AM I), like:

"So they met on Tuesday at the town hall steps
To get an eight by ten photo and a wedding date set.
We might as well do it next week
'cause we've met everybody that we're ever gonna meet."

and

"There's a streetlight for each night your heart hit the deck
This drink says I love you, this drink says I couldn't care less
Kiss me so I know I'm alive
The drinks taste crap but they keep coming 'til five"

Obviously, I was smitten. I had to find out more about this band.

What I found was the white-hot center of the Australian assault on my musical taste...it just took a little while for me to realize it. I went down to Best Buy (after scouring all the independents) and found one You Am I album — '#4 Record.' '#4' took its time in revealing its genius, like Dylan's 'World Gone Wrong' did for me 8 years ago. It hung around the corners of my CD collection for a year or two, on the b-side of Luna mix tapes, twitching a Telecaster like a blade and revealing its lyrical beauty slowly and then suddenly, like the face of mountain greeting an early morning sun. When I finally got it, when I finally couldn't listen to it without singing along at the top of my lungs, hands in the air, I had to find even more. I'm a bit compulsive that way.

What I found next was lead singer / songwriter Tim Rogers' solo album from '99, 'What Rhymes with Cars and Girls,' on Amazon.com for the bargain price of $32.99. It was an import, after all. So I figured what the heck, right? The verdict — one of the best CD purchases of my life, without question. 'What Rhymes' is an astounding collection of songs from and for and about the heart, about being in a rock band, about driving alone, about living alone, about the moments that happen in between all the others, when not a word is spoken and everything freezes, just for that one moment, and the world feels more real than ever before. And it's about cars and girls, of course. Recorded with the makeshift backing band the Twin Set (featuring Jen Anderson from Weddings Parties Anything (available in fine record stores, in Australia) on violin), the album combines Rogers' unmistakeable voice with contemporary instruments like jangly acoustic guitars, mandolin, pedal steel, violin, fretless bass and a snare drum. It's just unbelievable.

I needed more.

And so I dug and backtracked and ordered CDs from eBay, from Australia, from California, from Europe. You Am I are the ultimate example that there is no distance too far for great music. I've gone across America, through Europe, any way necessary in the past. And isn't it amazing that it's finally in Australia, after all these years, all the way around the world, that one can find a little rock band that captures everything rock music is supposed to be, (in my head, at least), the honest ragged glory of it all, the 3:30 AM, imperfect voice, six-strings, pockets empty, a bit of the old spirits still there, still around, and tomorrow morning knocking. Let em knock. The fine appreciation that life happens 24 hours a day, ladies and gentleman, twenty-four hours a day. You Am I bashes every single one of them. And to think that there's this band, unknown (and now unsigned) in the US, nobody in Europe...they speak for us, they lead the toast, in loud, magical electricity.

Some thoughts I jotted down around the time of the release of the single "Damage," November 2000.

And so you can order this new single. It's out there, it's available, with a little effort. It's the first taste of the sound of 2001, the first new You Am I since I got on board. And it's genius. Give me only these four tracks, and I'll put the band at the top of my favorites, it's that good. "Damage" is bold, beautiful songwriting. Tim Rogers sings with a strained whisper, the song builds wonderfully as he slowly lets go of the hush: "I wrote down what I think / on the head of a matchstick / wrote it all soft and sweet / all that made sense to me..." In the last verse, he stretches the word "head" out, leaving the listener hanging on a slow-motion hairpin. The hushed urgency returns for the last "all that made sense to me" and it's all just falling apart, falling all around us as the song builds to the last sounds.

It's "Open All Night" that brings it all home, though, and that is possibly the song of the year. It's an emotional elevation that comes with no reference points. As unique and majestic as Pulp's "Disco 2000" or "Dishes," it soars and cuts you loose, sets you free, demands you stand up, raise your head, raise your hands again, feel the light. Rogers' wordless singing in the bridge, hiding behind the strings and the electric guitar, that's when you get the last round, sleeves rolled up. And you spend the rest of the song with your glass high, one more toast. And you smile, because you're with your best friends, even all alone.

 

You Am I Discography:
- Sound As Ever, 1994, ***
- Hi Fi Way, 1995, **** 1/2
- Hourly, Daily, 1996, *****
- #4 Record, 1998, ****
- Dress Me Slowy, 2001, **** 1/2
- Saturday Night, 'round Ten (live), 1999, ****
- What Rhymes with Cars and Girls (Tim Rogers & the Twin Set), 1999, *****

All of the You Am I albums are available through www.whammo.com.au at a conversion rate comparable to going down to your local record store and buying a domestic release. Cheaper, actually.

11/17/01

 



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What you didn't know you always wanted. :-P