"Gentleman," PSY's follow-up to "Gangnam Style," has already made history.
At a recent Beach Boys concert I attended, the most enthusiastic crowd response-- measured by the number of couples dancing romantically, dudes in Hawaiian shirts bro-ing down, and solo hippie wig-outs-- came not for "Good Vibrations", "Wouldn't It Be Nice", or even "California Girls". No, it was for fuckin' "Kokomo". No doubt, the sight of 20- and 60-year-olds alike happily groovin' to the same escapist, bourgeoise-fantasy jingle would've mortified Lars Finberg; the thirtysomething brainstrust of the Intelligence seems to hold boomers and Millennials with equal contempt, if only because both groups appear to be having more fun than him. Over the course of seven albums and countless sideline releases as the Intelligence, Finberg has couched his various complaints in cryptic, cheeky wordplay, and a fractious sound that hotwires the hormonal abandon of 1960s garage-rock to the intellectualized anarchy of post-punk and robotic spaziness of new wave. But his new album, Everybody's Got It Easy But Me, comes wrapped in such a self-explanatory mission statement, it might was well come with a cover photo of Larry David.
Everybody's Got It Easy But Me is at once the Intelligence's most lyrically direct and musically exploratory album to date, introducing pastoral psychedelia, space-age bachelor-pad vibes, and at least one proper ballad to the mix. Fittingly for a record that likes to pull you in two different directions at once, Finberg recorded it with two separate supporting casts in his hometown of Seattle and his new base of operations, Los Angeles, a city that tends to elicit extreme love/hate reactions. Finberg, however, opens the album with the suitably blasé sentiment of "I Like L.A.", on which he essentially plays the opening act to himself, itemizing his anxieties over a tinker-toy beat and grinding acoustic riff-- like something Graham Coxon might come up with in his bedroom when in a Wire-y mood-- before a patience-testing count up to 44 and a thoroughly unexcited announcement of "ladies and gentlemen, the band" introduces a full-group rock-out rendition. Of course, the Intelligence are hardly the first band to explore the fallacy of the California dream, but rather than deal in a trite fallen-angel narrative, "I Like L.A." keys in on the day-to-day monotony of artists struggling to make ends meet in the shadow of the entertainment-industrial complex; what it captures is the very despairing sound of countless nights spent playing for the bar staff and their friends.
But Everybody's Got It Easy But Me answers Finberg's ever-withering worldview with playful, rambunctious performances, enhancing the I-just-wasn't-made-for-these-times pathos of his lyrics by essentially making him sound like an outcast within his own songs. On "Hippy Provider", he rolls his eyes at the sound of "freedom rock" even though his exuberant backing chorus of female singers seem eager to keep on chooglin'. "Reading and Writing About Partying" is a raucous rallying cry for frustrated concert-goers who can't enjoy their favorite band because everyone's holding up their goddamn cameraphones, and for those left aghast at how the think-for-yourself ethos of punk and first-wave indie rock has degenerated into a social-media hivemind.
If Finberg's crankiness starts to grate on the demented six-minute squeal "Sunny Backyard", Everybody's Got It Easy But Me also yields surprising moments of sweetness and delicacy: "Little Town Flirt" is a faithful cover of the 1962 Del Shannon hit that sees Finberg trading lines with another Shannon (Shaw, of Oakland garage outfit Shannon and the Clams), while the downcast acoustic closer "Fidelty" sees a straight-faced Finberg dropping disarmingly candid confessions-- "If you really scrape for the truth/ Every part of me has died"-- over a melody that echoes Pulp's "Razzamatazz", before yielding to a teary chorus of harmonies straight outta "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road". It's always been easy to smirk along to Finberg's lyrics and deadpan, detached delivery, but in its dying minutes, Everybody's Got It Easy But Me emphasizes a quality that often gets lost in the conversational crossfire: He's a professional cynic only because he cares.