It’s a sign of the cold times that a witty, sardonic, effortlessly hooky power-pop record such as this one needs so much help to attract the least notice. It’s been endorsed by James “LCD Soundsystem” Murphy. It’s been marveled over by people at Pitchfork. It’s been hyped to shit by every little blog and alt-weekly you can name. It still won’t get half as much active-rock traction as the slowest-moving Cheap Trick record. But it deserves twice that, at least. Like a few other summer classics worth mentioning in some venue with a broader word count, this one, with every day between June 1 and August 31 you spend listening to it, says something good, bad, and written in stone about you.
For, you see, this Free Energy record is as smart as Elvis Costello when he knew he was past his prime but still in his element. When he could finally speak intelligently for the most dumb-assed of nerds. It’s that smart, melodic and bitter. I’m not sure Elvis himself had the luxury of this kind of self-knowledge, this ability to set effortlessly optimistic vocal melodies to deeply misanthropic lyrics. (“They’re comes a time when it’s different / But not today” being the most neutral example I could find.) (Hell, the chorus of track-one-side-one is “This is all we’ve got tonight / This is all we’ve got tonight.” How better do you not give a fuck?) What spurned-nerd anthem has ever been more clearly declared than “Bang Pop,” which starts with the chords from “Reeling in the Years,” but then goes straight into a fucking stomper, lamenting the moment when you first see a hot girl popping her gum. I mean, why do they do that?
To hell with it. This is a fun summer record, and just as bitter and conflicted as any fun summer record could be. There is still an art to misanthropy, and Free Energy has it down to a science.