A year after Under Cold Blue Stars, in 2003, Josh Rouse released another semi-concept album, 1972. The album was named after the year Rouse was born (and the year I was born, incidentally) and the music and packaging were designed to evoke that era.
1972 is a definite candidate for Rouse’s best album. It’s certainly his most fun and musically adventurous… he packs strings, horns, flutes and eclectic percussion into every song and gives his falsetto a workout on tracks both sensual and surreal. He even finds room for a mournful acoustic track that makes the best use of gospel backup singers this side of Lyle Lovett.
I could do a theme week on this album alone. No matter what song I pick, I’m kicking myself for leaving the other nine under wraps. But that’s a problem I’ll have tomorrow and Monday as well.
I’m going with ‘Flight Attendant,’ a minimalist number that makes perfect use of delicate piano, bass, drums and acoustic guitar to weave a cabaret-style sound tapestry over which Rouse sings about a gay airline steward (that’s gotta be a first). Toward the end, the song opens up and the horn section kicks in and the song achieves metaphorical liftoff on the final verse.
Looking back at Rouse’s conventional beginnings, it’s interesting to surmise on what led him to the creative energy he displays on 1972. In that sense he reminds me of Aimee Mann, whose songwriting prowess you can watch bloom over the course of her early albums. Does practice make perfect? Does success breed confidence, which leads to risk-taking? Why do some artists just keep getting better?
A mama’s boy, no one could save me
From those kids at school
They would bully, they would tease
They would taunt me, haunt me
“You’re such a pretty boy”
Fear, I grew up so scared
The Bible Belt, redneck lifestyle
One day I’ll fly free, in the airplanes
“Where’s my seat?” “Where’s my champagne?”
“I’m such a pretty boy”
Heaven knows the lengths I go
To please them everyday
They don’t even notice when I’m down
“Such a pretty boy”
Hotels were closed
And the airport was clean
I was stranded alone
In my southwest dream