This is a rave
I spend a lot of time on the bicycle. Even when it rains like it has in the past month, I usually ride to work. It’s a great way to listen to new music via an iPod; I load the device with a lot of new songs, and I try to mix it up and listen to a lot of different things.
This past month was different. I became obsessed. The focus of my obsession was, and still is, nine songs by a local artist named Adrian Bourgeois. Simply put, these demos—four of them recorded with his father, musician Brent Bourgeois, and the other five with local producer David Houston—are among the finest post-Beatles pop tunes I’ve ever heard.
That covers a lot of ground: obvious Beatle knockoffs like Badfinger and Cheap Trick, singer-songwriters like Elliott Smith, early Todd Rundgren and the obscure Emitt Rhodes, along with anyone else who ever embraced a style of songwriting where melody and smart chord changes trump dynamics and texture while still maintaining a sound identifiable as “rock.” This even includes Elton John, before he went Carmen Miranda on everyone.
I’ve held off on writing this, perhaps hoping that a realization that these songs are no better than what everyone else is doing might sink in and save me from further embarrassment. Alas, no dice.
Does that mean there’s a Jon Landau-like statement in the offing: “I have seen the future of pop music, and its name is Adrian Bourgeois”? Given the fragmentation of the music marketplace—this isn’t like the rock milieu in the mid-1970s when Bruce Springsteen arrived—it’s a risky pronouncement to make.
So, I’ll paraphrase: If some smart record label should sign young Bourgeois and put a Jon Brion or Brendan O’Brien in the studio with him to help him produce a debut album (with “help” being the operative word, as David Houston says Bourgeois is almost confident enough to produce himself), and if that record gets competent marketing and promotion, Bourgeois most likely will become a huge force in the music world.
There’s a density of musical ideas permeating these nine songs—the Rundgren-esque “Silk to Ashes,” a John Lennon-meets-Pink Floyd number called “Summertime,” an utter pop delight titled “Mister Imaginary Friend” and the Harry Nilsson-like “Hey Juniper” among them—not typically found on most current albums, where one often hears the same one or two ideas repeated over and over in minor variations. I’d say this is “can’t miss,” except for the upside-down cruelties of pop culture, which sometimes elevates the aggressively untalented while relegating its true creative forces to undeserved obscurity.
If there’s a criticism, it’s this: Like Jackie Greene does by reinventing post-Dylan Americana, Adrian Bourgeois redesigns the vibrant sound of an earlier era more than he creates anything truly groundbreaking. Not that there’s anything wrong with such neo-classicism, as long as the emphasis stays trained on creating something original rather than reworking somebody else’s classic work. And, in the case of both Greene and Bourgeois, there’s far too much originality present to be overwhelmed by their reverence for the past.
Perhaps that’s a characteristic that will come to distinguish a Sacramento “sound” in the future, something this town will be known for—a place where the past gets reinvented in new and remarkable ways.