A Goddamned Impossible Way of Life is the second full length album of the D.C. based band The Paranoid Style. The band is led by lead singer and songwriter Elizabeth Nelson and her husband, versatile guitarist Timothy Bracy. The band is named after Richard J. Hofstadter‘s 1964 essay The Paranoid Style in American Politics.
“I confess, I enjoyed the process, but I never wanted the results…”
The album is signified by a dynamic range of rock-and-roll styles, heavily influenced by Celtic rock/punk, combined with a lyrical density that might make James Joyce blush. Elizabeth Nelson’s voice pulls off the hat trick of clarity, sincerity, and ironic absurdity that perhaps hasn’t been experienced since Amy Rigby. This is an album that rewards replays and requires an investment in time. The lyrics are so densely packed with historical and cultural references that you may find yourself on wikipedia trying to learn more.
Track by track
The opener evokes low key legend Amy Rigby. A barrage of syllables sends the senses reeling as singer Elizabeth Nelson hits you with an opener packed with historical references that belie the premise of wickedness.
“it was farcical, but it wasn’t comical.”
The band plays a rolling rock that could have just as easily been heard on Bruce Springsteen’s Born in the USA album as Nelson walks us through the confusion of living in a world full of shocking events while dealing with the frail base sexuality of living in a human body. From Newt to Nixon, it’s enough to make you need a cigarette after.
Expecting to Fly (Economy)
Did Keith Richards sit in on the studio session? The opening guitar riff is positively Stones-esque and sets the tone for a raucous exploration of rock-and-roll frugality. Nelson is playing with words as she walks us through the absurdity of the reality of true rock-and-roll lifestyle.
Won’t agree to pass away, I won’t agree to die
…tonight I’m taking wing and I’m expecting to fly… economy
A better living through chemistry, but I haven’t got the grades
A better living through consumerism, but I’m waiting to get paid
A better living through action and I’m willing to try
Everything dies and everything flies economy
Sex, drugs, and rock-and-roll? Sex and rock, sure, but drugs and food only if they come at a significant discount.
A Marked Man on a Marked Occasion
The Easter Rising hits you at a fever’s pace in this homage to the Irish Rebellion of 1916. The guitar is played at the pace of DC punk and would have fit in well in the 930 club in the 80s. Elizabeth pays homage to the citizen army of the rising in Dublin with shout outs for Padraig Pierce and James Connolly.
A marked man on a marked occasion, It’s not easy starting a nation
That Guy’s In Rammstein
The kind of song you hear at the end of the night at the bar. The guitar makes no attempt to convince you that this is anything but a dirge. It’s clearly time to go home, you look down the end of the bar, you see a vaguely famous musician nursing a jack and coke, and you wonder if fame without fortune is perhaps the definition of hell.
Kaiser’s in a can and I’m nearing the end
Banner Day for the Trash Cat
Nelson’s voice is on full display here as her understated and conversational tone has shades of Belinda Carlisle in Mad About You. Elizabeth invites us into a level of intimacy as she notes in sadness that life is at times an exercise in selfish futility.
Murder: The Experience
The sheer pace and force of this song is jarring after the prior two songs and gives a dynamism to the album as a whole. In a world of singles released individually, it is a rare gift to be taken into the darkest depths of Banner Day for the Trash Cat just to be thrown into the washing machine of Murder: The Experience. When taken together, you are given the sense of a bi-polar relationship that is intensely meaningful and disorienting.
On my deathbed, I could see you making an appearance
Anything less would murder the experience
An Endless Cycle / The Peculiar Case
These songs back-to-back are reminiscent of the Fratellis. They are rollicking, and you can almost see the unbridled joy of the guitarist Timothy Bracy’s strum hand and power stance being unleashed. They hit you with the pace and layers to get you off your feet.
Lyrically, Nelson evokes Ayn Rand with lyrics of “Who is John Galt? If someone else suffers and you prosper, it ain’t your fault.”
A Goddamn Impossible Way of Life
The Who concert riot is the subject of the signature song of the album. General Admission sales in Cincinnati, Ohio combined with confusion about open doors and early play led to the crowd assuming that the band was playing earlier than scheduled. The entire crowd pushed toward the two doors which had been opened. 11 people were trampled to death. The band was not informed about the tragedy until after the concert had ended.
Triumphant was the way they felt before they knew the kids had been trampled
I hope I get old before I die, I hope I die before I’m made an example
Goddamn impossible way of life (I can’t explain) Goddamn impossible way of life (I can’t explain) Goddamn impossible way of life (Call it a bargain) The best they ever had.
Clouds of Witness
In an album of sheer playfully dense wordplay, this is perhaps the best example of referential depth and humor. There is something Dylan-esque about the wordplay on display in this song. The drums provide the double time early rock/jazz backdrop to drag you into the lilting gymnastics on display with Nelson. Played at a different beat, this could almost be a Kendrick Lamar level lyrical journey.
Ah sure, I confess I enjoyed the drama, but I never said the play’s the thing
Light sleep and sobbin’
Took the job and now you’re jobbin’
Doubting my views on science
Tried out peace and then chose violence
Building Up and Tearing England Down
This Dominic Behan cover is played in an Irish pub punk style similar to the Pogues. Nelson manages to channel both Shane MacGowan and Kirsty MacColl as she drives us through the Irish republican classic. The band brings the energy and ironic gallows humor of classic Irish punk.