EVERY NEW ADAM GREEN album promises to show a new and serious side of the New York singer-songwriter, who remains most popular for cracking dick jokes and soundtracking “Juno” in anti-folk also-rans the Moldy Peaches. And on “Breaking Locks,” which opens his sixth solo full-length, “Minor Love,” he actually makes good: Over a churchly organ and sleepwalking guitar line, he describes a lonely retreat to a seedy hotel and finally admits, “I’ve been too awful to ever be thoughtful, to ever be nice.”
Coming so early on the album, “Breaking Locks” is an intriguing moment, if only because Green rarely sounds so sincere or so forthcoming. Unfortunately, throughout the remainder of “Minor Love,” he is either uninterested in or unable to repeat or sustain that songwriterly transparency, and instead he falls back on his savant songwriting, emphasizing simplistic AABB rhyme schemes, sing-song melodies, and lyrics about prostitutes, pill poppers, hobos and “flatulent assholes.” Ten years after the dissolution of the Peaches, Green remains more jokester than folkster.
On one hand, it’s admirable that he has defiantly held on to his youthful brattiness even as he pushes 30, gleefully flipping the bird to expectations of artistic maturity and musical ambition that routinely hobble more capable acts. On the other hand, there’s something frustrating, even pathetic about his forced lowbrow anti-folk, the way there’s something depressing about the guy who still hangs around high school years after he graduated.
While “Minor Love” doesn’t indulge as much second-grade humor as his previous albums, Green still can’t help but sing and play everything like it has air quotes around it. He jettisons the higher-fi experiments of 2008’s “Sixes and Sevens” in favor of skuzzy, grotty urban folk, but even then, thanks to the wink implied in his vocals, it never sounds like anything other than a cheeky exercise — a set-up with no punchline. “Boss Inside” sounds like Leonard Cohen, but it’s just his “Leonard Cohen” song. “Oh Shucks” is his “Lou Reed” song, if Lou Reed had haunted post-Giuliani hipster bars. The descriptions of back-alley denizens and gritty city life on “Bathing Birds” and “Buddy Bradley” sound secondhand instead of first-. They’re more Strokes than Velvet Underground: Venus in Fake Furs.
The layers of self-awareness and allusions don’t mean Green is complicated, just that he’s not as funny as he used to be. He goes for “clever” as an endgame, but only gets there half the time — well, half is generous. “What Makes Him Act So Bad” is almost convincing with its catchy hook and deflating wryness, and “Breaking Locks” unfolds some intriguing imagery as it tells a simple story about self-imposed isolation. Generally, though, Green winks his way through “Minor Love,” insistently asking if we get the joke. In trying to grow up while not growing up, he only grown more and more disingenuous.
Written by Express contributor Stephen M. Deusner
Photo by Guy Eppel