Tuesday, February 5, 2008

I Get a Funny Feeling

Material Issue is so great. Although they were among the first powerpop groups I ran into I didn’t start listening to them properly until last fall. Material Issue may not actually be the right kind of thing to start with when getting into powerpop (at least it obviously wasn’t the right thing for me). But that’s OK. After spending four years listening to many other PP bands, I realized that Material Issue had suddenly become pure sweetness to my ears.

Material Issue was a 1990s trio lead by songwriter Jim Ellison. They released four albums. So far, I’ve got acquainted with the first, International Pop Overthrow (1991), and the third, Freak City Soundtrack (1994). IPO is an absolutely wonderful album containing many catchy songs such as Valerie Loves Me, Diane, Crazy, and of course the great title track. My personal favourite is the bouncy Li’l Christine, a perfect ending for a near-perfect album.

Freak City Soundtrack is sometimes regarded as Material Issue’s greatest album and that opinion might just ring true even with me. While IPO is characterized by quite moderate, jangly early 90s sounds, FCS is a lot louder, faster and more rocking. There aren’t many slow songs on Freak City Soundtrack, which makes the album great to listen to when you need energy (for me that is often). And the songs! The songs are excellent. Goin’ Through Your Purse is amazing, and the same is true of Funny Feeling, The Fan, Very Good Thing, and basically every song on the album.

Jim Ellison’s lyrics often remind me of Weezer frontman Rivers Cuomo’s awesome, geeky texts. Both deal with love, girlfriends, and all kinds of problems related to them. Jim and Rivers have a quite similar approach to these subjects. You could say that they write so extremely emotion-appealing lyrics that it’s almost silly. On the other hand, what is also true is that heartbreak may not really be a thing to be discussed lightly.

Somehow, I still constantly find myself very amused listening to these heartbreak stories and I’m certain I’m not the only one who feels this way. I guess you just never can get used to how dramatic life can occasionally be. This is one difficult thing to explain – especially in a foreign language! However, it’s indeed very strange how serious things turn into something quite different when they are discussed in a certain way. Is it that I’m just able to see the humorous side of other people’s terrible misfortune or is it that I’m a bad person enjoying someone else’s setback?

The most memorable moments listening to Material Issue are those when you get touched and amused at the same time. It’s one big confusing emotional rollercoaster. What is great about this kind of music is that it’s much more than just something you listen to. It’s life, feelings, and being a human, too.

Oh how I love Jim Ellison’s voice. It’s bright, high-pitched and very expressive. I really think there is a difference between Material Issue’s first and third album. Ellison has certainly learned to realize his full potential as a singer on FCS. Also, as a sort-of-fan of The Cure I can’t help comparing his voice to the one of Robert Smith’s. They really bare some resemblance, but that’s not a bad thing.

RIP, Jim Ellison. You certainly left something wonderful for us pop fanatics to enjoy.

Listen to Material Issue at YouTube:

Valerie Loves Me music video
Diane music video
What Girls Want music video

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