BY MIKE SHANLEY
Sometimes Ed Masley can be too clever for his own good. Song titles like “The Way We Weren’t,” “Another Day in the Life” and “8th Circle of Hell” give the impression of a songwriter who gets his kicks from appropriating the classics for laughs. But there’s more to him than that. A whole lot more.
The driving force behind the Breakup Society goes for pathos more than yuks. Like his hero Ray Davies, he sketches his storylines with characters whose best days have passed them by or — in some cases — never came, a problem with which they haven’t come to terms. Just when you think you know who Masley’s singing about, the third verse wheels around and deepens the meaning of the song. “The Way We Weren’t” (co-written by John Wesley Harding, who released it on The Sound of His Own Voice last year) sounds like a relationship song until the bridge, when it’s revealed to be the tale of two bandmates, as the speaker suddenly admits that he’d take the bad times over nothing at all. It also contains the brilliantly obtuse couplet: “Sang your chorus, I won’t sing anymore/ your thesaurus, my favorite dinosaur.” “The Next Reunion” proves that the only thing more tragic than being seen as a failure in your hometown is not being remembered there at all. And there’s something humorous in the bridge when he sings bluntly, “And he’d like to go home again/ get some soup from his mother,” especially when it’s bathed in all the reverb.
Despite all the melodrama, So Much Unhappiness… rocks hard, the way an upbeat album should. Masley’s nasal delivery gives things a youthful drive even though the narratives clearly come from a mind that’s been around the block a few times. The arrangements draw on classic pop trimmings like Beatles 7th chords showing up at the precise moment, vocal harmonies, a trumpet blast and addition of mellotron or piano. When the band shifts into slow, garage rock overdrive for closer “She Doesn’t Cross Against the Light” (the third song in a row named with pronoun-based sentences), they add a lot of roar to what would otherwise sound like a simple riff. But by that point, it’s clear that Masley can add new life to a tried-and-true formula.
DOWNLOAD: “The Way We Weren’t,” “Mary Shelley.”