Syd Straw

1989: Virgin V2-91266

  1. Think Too Hard
  2. Heart of Darkness
  3. Chasing Vapor Trails (His Turn To Cry)
  4. Almost Magic
  5. Crazy American
  6. Hard Times
  7. Future 40’s (String of Pearls)
  8. The Unanswered Question?
  9. Sphinx
  10. Racing to the Ruins
  11. Golden Dreams

I first heard “Future 40’s” while painting rooms in a veterinary hospital in Renton in 1990 (long story), and I recall stopping work completely and staring at the radio in amazement. So much good music came out in 1989, and an impressive proportion of that was Athens-GA-related…. Even though I barely knew of Michael Stipe at the time, his voice is often twangy and always unmistakable, and in this pairing with Syd Straw’s double-tracked twang and the twangy guitar work, well, that makes for a LOT of twang. I wouldn’t have been so inclined to listen to it, but the lyrics were so arresting: “the future looked like the ’40s…and we were ready!” / “This isn’t the way I dreamed it would be someday (This is what I’ve settled for)” / “Hey man I’m makin’ moves and I am so much stronger than you….”

When I finally tracked down a copy of this album (first on vinyl, then on CD in an it-fell-from-the-sky kind of miracle) I found that that song was indeed every bit as great as it had sounded; the rest of the album zigzags in quality (to my ear, that is). I very much enjoy “Crazy American” and “Racing to the Ruins,” and sometimes “The Unanswered Question,” but the other tracks either don’t move me or do actually annoy me (especially, in the latter case, because some wordplay or joke is being stretched out to constitute an entire song, and the jokes just aren’t that clever). And maybe I’m just from too much of a different culture or heritage, but “Hard Times” actually hurts to listen to.

So I play my favorites, thank Straw (and Stipe) for providing the stuff I like, and leave the rest undisturbed.