Quasi Hot Shit(Domino) Buy it from Insound
I bought Quasi's The Poisoned Well / California 7" back in 1998, when they were breaking away from their day job as Elliott Smith's live backing band, and although I never got round to investing in an album, it's one of my favourite singles; from that point on I always imagined Quasi dwelling bravely on the fringes of accepted taste, fashioning slanted takes on FM pop to a small group of fans. However, seeds of doubt were sown as soon as I picked up their new album. No doubt eager to limit the costs on an album which will undoubtedly appeal to a limited market, Domino seem to have left the design work in the hands of their 16-year-old work placement kid. Thus, Hot Shit comes packaged in what must be the worst cover art of all time, featuring a blue cartoon gonk with its eyes popping out. Truly hideous.
The insubstantial title track, whilst being likeably askew, offered little to dispel my mistrust. Luckily, it soon subsides into Seven Years Gone, wherein Quasi's unusual meld of pertinent political lyricism and bar-room vibrancy points with laconic ease to the potential potency of their sound. Unfortunately, Good Time Rock n' Roll and Master and Dog are little more than enjoyable filler to pass the time until Drunken Tears stakes its claim as a potential single of the year; loose, wandering piano sketches give way to a unsuppressible surge of melody that effortlessly pulls you into its slipstream. Herein Quasi's stomach-twisting pop sensibilities are at full strength, whilst incisive lyrics sketch the reality of a friend ravaged by love and liquor with stark and clear-eyed precision ('so what if you're not the genius that you always thought you were?'); it is a testament to Sam Coomes' delicate artistry that whilst its honesty is cutting, it is always concerned and sympathetic, and never allows itself to occupy a higher ground than its subject. Lambchop's Nixon was the last time such a balancing act was successfully performed, and if a better song has been written this year, I've yet to hear it.
Weiss' inhumanly pitch-perfect backing vocals allow Sunshine Sounds to follow such a tour-de-force unfettered, before Quasi loosen into an extended outro that actually rivals the main event, and suddenly it seems possible that we've been hustled, and that the lukewarm opening was simply orchestrated to leave us vulnerable to involuntary intoxication. Which means that when the spell is broken, the magic seems so irretrievably lost that it is tempting to write Hot Shit off altogether. The end of the album approaches like the end of a cigarette: stale, and seemingly burned out. Don't worry, the last drags are worth saving, but first we have to get past the unholy trinity of tracks 7-9: Mama Tried is almost glam-rock in its bludgeoning, hammered chords, the heavy-handed approach creates a leaden track, and this brute fashioning extends to its hopeless lyrics ('Dr Jekyll lied, or was that Mr Hyde?').
No-one fosters a delicate melancholy that is genuinely depressing, despite its lyrical intentions. Some of the saddest songs ever written still allow for some pleasurable, adolescent wallowing, or spellbind with the tender humanity of the heart-broken, but No-One is your worst insecurities in song-form and contains neither, and the result is a kind of emotional no-man's land. If you're just about to jump off of a multi-storey car park you might disagree, but then you're obviously in no fit state to be objective about anything, let alone the merits of an alt-pop album. White Devil's Dream contains what your 14-year-old Metallica-loving cousin passes off as incisive political commentary, in plain packaging. Suffice to say, I don't think that Colin Powell will be wringing guilt-ridden tears from his sodden pillow should he hear it after getting fried at his local indie club. Thank God, then, for Good Times, and its admirably unnecessary gospel intro, after which Janet Weiss borrows Tom Waits' tin-pot drum kit. This initially enjoyable patchwork oddity then transforms itself into the kind of uplifting, 'hey, life is worthwhile despite the fact that we spent most of the album detailing the crap bits' finale that will undoubtedly be the teary-eyed, Zippo-waving round off to their live shows for years to come.
Lullaby Pt.2 ends the album. It's pretty schmaltzy, but pretty nonetheless; a guilty pleasure, which sums up the majority of the best aspects of Hot Shit; some of my favourite moments both indulge in and subtly subvert the clich?of bar-room boogie (and credit must be due to Quasi for even attempting to revitalise such an irreparably unstylish genre). Some of the plaudits must go to Coomes' vocal style, which heroically strains in much the same way as Wayne Coyne or Jason Lytle, and to equally endearing effect. Unfortunately, my overall impression of Hot Shit is that it is neither hot nor shit; it's one of those albums you might buy on impulse and be neither disappointed nor overwhelmed by; if you do buy it, you'll initially enjoy it, and then place it with the other albums you 'quite like', but rarely choose to play. Shame, as there is plenty of evidence on Hot Shit to repay the faith that Domino show in the group. I've had this album for about a month, and although I enjoy it every time I listen to it, the only times I've even thought about playing it have been for the purposes of reviewing it; something else always gets precedence. It's like that likeable acquaintance who you never get around to having a proper conversation with. I've read reviews of Hot Shit that have given it many plaudits, but, truth be known, I've never spent so much time over a review, namely because I've never felt worse about awarding such a worthwhile album such an average mark.21 September, 2003 - 23:00 — Pat Harte