Part 10 of 12 Albums That Stuck With Me
If you know Tom Cochrane’s biggest hit, it’s probably as “that Rascal Flatts song from Cars“. Indeed, the original “Life is a Highway” was pretty big for a couple weeks at the end of 1991, but it faded away pretty quickly. As an anthem for a bunch of computer-animated, anthropomorphic automobiles 15 years later, Pixar could’ve picked worse.
The rest of the album is … well, it’s not at the top of many lists. Maybe “Tom Cochrane solo records” or “least politically challenging post-Gulf War releases”. Were it not for my own nerd rage at country covers of rock songs and a final track I could play acoustically at open mics to a fair amount of praise, the whole disc might’ve faded from my memory too.
I was also about 13 when this thing came out, and thus the perfect audience for its straightforward rock and roll sorta-coolness. While it strays into heavy topics like drug use and poverty occasionally, it’s never subtle. Consider this metric: on average, the title of each song is repeated nearly 12 times in that song. The number would be considerably higher if Cochrane actually sang “Everything comes around” instead of “Everything comes ’round” in track 6.
This tendency to repeat a key phrase likely influenced my own very early songwriting – the stuff that no one ever, ever needs to hear. Reacting against that simplistic technique later on made me into the obscure creator of uncatchy yet brilliantly insightful tunes you all know and love.
Something else stands out about Tom Cochrane: this particular noise he makes. It might be “Awrwrwrwrwrwrwrwr”, his equivalent of an “ooh” or “ah” or rapper’s “yeah”. The sound is the precise midpoint between seeing a pile of sleeping kittens and adjusting your eyepatch with your hook hand.
Hidden between these tropes, though, is a good amount of decent music. The lyrics are sometimes clumsy, but Cochrane knows it, going so far as to pen an entire bridge composed of nothing but clichés in “Washed Away”. The unslick writing does lead to a few choice lines, and several tracks feature not just one but two bridge sections.
Speaking of movies and covers, by the way, the album and second track title has nothing to do with “Mad World”, the 1982 Tears for Fears song covered by Michael Andrews and Gary Jules for the Donnie Darko soundtrack. Also I am not related to Michael Andrews, as far as I know. And also speaking of Tears for Fears, while I did try to grow my hair like Roland Orzabal’s, I never saw the original Canadian cover art for Mad Mad World and didn’t go for that look.
Part 9 of 12 Albums That Stuck With Me
I have a distinct memory of finding this album in the record store. It was in the small tourist town down the hill from my college; the fourth track, “Everyone Will Crawl”, had been on the radio the previous year.
As these things tend to go, that moderate hit song paled in comparison to the rest of the album.
I’m normally not overly impressed by music from virtuosos, whether the exceptional talent be singing or an instrument like, in this casae, guitar. It tends to be a platform for showcasing technical skills rather than making songs that sound good. Sexton gets plenty intricate with guitar solos, fills, and pedal gymnastics, but Under the Wishing Tree is so memorable because of the depth of storytelling and intense arrangements.
It’s at its most poignant when Sexton speaks about his childhood. “Sunday Clothes”, track six, is a deceptively jaunty song about how church helped him deal with a broken home life and a father in prison. The earnest religiosity never tips into outright praise or preachiness, even when he proclaims that “God is watching” in the final track, “Broken Dream”. The mood is not self-satisfied or superior, but relieved and thankful. This is Christian rock I can get behind.
The album is also just plain long. At 72 minutes, its twelve songs average six minutes each. In reality there’s four songs exceeding six minutes but among them the 12-minute epic “Plain Bad Luck and Innocent Mistakes”. Only one song, “Railroad”, comes close to a radio-friendly four minutes, and that’s because its first 15 seconds are inexplicably at the end of the previous track.
“Plain Bad Luck and Innocent Mistakes” uses its running time to look back at his parents’ life – a tale of ’60s rebellion that uses sensitive, piercing lyrics and composed but honest rock and roll to paint its characters with sympathy and grandeur. It starts off quietly and builds to more than one climax by its end.
In fact, the peak moment of the whole album occurs in the song after that, “Home Sweet Home”, which I attempt to afford some tiny justice below. It revels triumphantly in small victories.
Part 8 of 12 Albums That Stuck With Me
Before delving into the utter craziness that is this album, let’s talk about the final track, “Knights of Cydonia”, shall we? Read the rest of this entry »
The latest viral pandemic spreading across social media is a test proclaiming how smart you are. Perhaps I have particularly brainy friends, or anyone with a supposed IQ beneath genius level is too ashamed to share their score, but I’ve come to the scientific conclusion that the test is utter bunk. Read the rest of this entry »
Part 7 of 12 Albums That Stuck With Me
By far, Tommy is the oldest album on my list. The ’70s and ’80s are entirely unrepresented, but this rock opera from 1969 was always an obvious one for me to include. Read the rest of this entry »