100 for 2000 – #5. Jon Brion – Meaningless

To end another wonderful decade of great music, I’m going to write about ten albums from each of the last ten years, that are either great, or hold some sort of personal significance. A musical kiss off to 00s.

2000 – #5. Jon Brion – Meaningless
(no label)

Tim Byron turned me onto this record. I’m not sure where the conversation started. Maybe Elliott Smith. Tim was a bigger fan than me, being a Fiona Apple fan. But Jon Brion is a key piece of the puzzle. He was behind the dials for so many artists I love – Badly Drawn Boy, Aimee Mann, Beck, Elliott Smith and later Rhett Miller, Finn Brothers and more (like Kanye West!!). I guess at this time, Brion was trying to balance being a producer or a singer songwriter. As this is the the only album he’s ever done, I’m guessing producer won.

When I started raving about this record, all my pop friends were already there, it seems. People had gone to LA to see him perform (he performed every Saturday at the Largo for years, with lines around the block). People were into his old band, the Grays. I’ve had long conversations about this album with the CEO of a major record company. It was Brad Shepherd from the Hoodoo Gurus who told me the last track was a Cheap Trick song.

Knowing this record was like a special club. Which makes sense as it’s so fucking obscure (but also so great). Story goes that this was to be a major label debut. The label (Lava, owned by Atlantic Records) decided not to pick up the album, and Brion self released it on his website. I eventually paid through the nose for a CD copy, having decided the CDR I had wasn’t enough.

(The package, by the way, is shit. Just get a CDR, really).

So – it has a great release story. The guy is very interesting. But what about the songs?

Well, they are great. It’s adult contemporary pop – a sound and a style Brion kind of owns. It’s not retro, or as straightjacketed as power pop. It’s a timeless sort of good songwriting, with good lyrics, well performed and sounding great. It’s like Crowded House – they are pop songs but not for kids.

Highlights abound. Rhett Miller would cover I Believe She’s Lying, but the weird drum sample and urgency of the original still trumps it. Walking Through Walls is a thumper, Brion’s guitar playing comes to the forefront. Ballads, blissful pop, some hardrockers all lead to the finale, the Cheap Trick song. Re-imagined as a ballad, Voices is one the best things Jon Brion has ever done.

Brion went on to be Mr Soundtrack. His work for Punch Drunk Love produced my favourite Brion song ever – Here We Go. He also did I Heart Huckabees and Eternal Sunshine Of the Spotless Mind.

We’ve lost him to production, but if he ever does another record, I’m there. And this ‘adult pop’ thing – well that would be big news for the next decade for me.

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