Sunday, October 14, 2012

Pete Yorn: A Decade in Review

Ok, so Pete Yorn's landmark debut CD, Music for the Morning After (Musicforthemorningafter, to be precise) is actually eleven years old, but I like dealing in decades. I remember fondly the first time I heard him in 2001, one of the best years of my life. The first-rate radio station WCLZ had launched (initially calling itself The Point), and they actually played amazing, diverse music, unlike any other FM station in Maine at the time. On late night drives between Augusta and Farmington, I heard "Life On A Chain," and was intrigued by this gravelly, masculine voice. I liked "Strange Condition" even better, with its catchy chorus and the pleading undercurrent to the vocals. Not long after, I bought the CD, fearful that I would be disappointed beyond those two songs. All these years later, it remains one of the most consistent debut albums in my collection, with standout tracks including the bittersweet ballad "Just Another," the moody "June" (with great drum work by Yorn), the flirtatious "Closet," and the beautifully sung "EZ." 

Two years later, in 2003, Pete Yorn released his sophomore album, the generally overlooked Day I Forgot.  In retrospect, this album was not that bad, and I still play it from time to time. I think the problem was that it sounded so similar to his debut, but without the novelty factor and with slightly weaker melodies.
Having basically written Yorn off as a one trick pony (albeit with a very great trick), I was delighted to find that his 2006 effort Nightcrawler featured some of his best work yet, joining Music for the Morning After as a CD you can play from start to finish with great pleasure. "Georgie Boy" is a social issue song that broke new ground for him lyrically; "Bandstand In the Sky" is an athemic, wonderful album closer; "Vampyre" is appealingly spooky; and "The Man," with background vocals from Natalie Maines of the Dixie Chicks, is one of the strongest songs of his career.

In 2009, Pete put out the cleverly titled Back & Fourth (he was back, with his fourth album), and yet again, he scored on all fronts. "Social Development Dance" is a heartbreaking story of a lover who passed away, featuring the strongest lyrics that Pete Yorn has written to date. The nostalgic "Last Summer" has elements of Fleetwood Mac in its opening chords and catchy melody, never a bad thing. "Paradise Cove" and "Close" are instantly addictive, offering up two distinct slices of Yorn's poppier side. Overall, Back & Fourth rivals Music for the Morning After as Yorn's most listenable work.

Since that album, Pete has put out a collaborative effort with actress Scarlet Johansson (Break Up), and 2010's self titled album, which has a slightly harder feel to it. Both of these projects see him continuing to hone his craft and challenge himself at the same time. With his distinct voice (a love or hate thing, like with Alanis Morissette), a knack for catchy melodies, and his constantly improving lyrics, Pete Yorn's future as a reliable practitioner of enjoyable, pop-rock music seems assured.

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