Matt Rocker goes solo with his latest CD, “Being, Human”
The album kicks off with “Ranchos Mancheros,” a rock tune in the vein of Little Feat, heavy on intro snare drums, harmonica and guitar. Rocker sings of “virgins, pimps, hookers, wimps, losers and heroes/ wasting their time wondering why the other ones are living that way,” and goes on to ask, “what if you could change your life completely, and everything turned out to be the same?” He eventually settles on the fatalistic dictum that “you are who you’re supposed to be.”
Finding oneself is a prominent theme in this Minneapolis boy’s work, figuring in his track “Butterfly or Ballerina,” which sounds like an old Joan Jett arrangement. “If I had to choose/ butterfly or ballerina/ well a butterfly doesn’t have to try to be beautiful,” he concedes, adding, “I’m growing wings, yes I think I might be changing/ if it’s because of you, it’s nothing short of amazing.”
Another track in this spirit is “Bayou,” a rolling melody with a sound straight out of the Traveling Wilburys songbook. Lost love is the theme here. Two broken champagne glasses and an unfinished tattoo lead Rocker to sing a chorus that proves quite catchy, “I don’t wanna do no wrong by you.”
The same Southern-fried rock sound also surfaces in “Back Home,” Rocker’s ode to being addicted to love. Mournful guitar and harmonic back up the lyrics, “I’m allergic to pain, I’d better just avoid it/ The effort’s in vain, The facts have been recorded/ now I know that I don’t want to know./ If I jump, will I fly?…./Can you ever get back home once you leave?” The song concedes the inescapable folly of love, an un-love song to “the person I call/ when I’ve got nothing to say.”
And in “Ol’ Yeller,” Rocker lays down a guitar track that sounds like Bruce Springsteen off the “Born in the USA” album, and bemoans the girl who “pulled out her hair/studied Christianity ‘til she had a cross to bear…you wrote the protest song/ it was the least that you could do.” But several verses later, Rocker cracks, “I don’t know you/ no, I don’t know you.”
Falling in and out of love songs are clearly Rocker’s m.o., with the emotion figuring in as more of a supporting character than anything else, dependent more on an on/off switch than on an uncontrollable torrent. If that is a bit jaded, it is not without humor.
In “I Love You,” Rocker sings, “how do you get your hair so shiny?/ What’ll we do when you get home?/ Why do I feel like I don’t need you?”
And though the production quality of the album comes across a little fuzzy—Rocker recorded under his own label, Love Rock Music—his skills as a songwriter are crystal clear. In “Hooked On,” Rocker sings, “it’s a constant struggle with gravity/ I think I can win.” In “Bare In Mind,” he asserts, “I can’t trade a life filled with pain/ for a life that’s always the same.” Rocker has a firm grasp on penning narrative rock songs that combine intellect and humor and still manage to fit nicely with his instrumental arrangements. It will be exciting to see this talented artist grow as a songwriter.
With this album, Rocker moved from his work with Matt Rocker & The Constituents to a purely solo work, except for some help from drummer Tommy Slicheter of Semisonic on one song. The shift comes off very well, and although Rocker will tour with the Constituents in tow—backed with video projections composed by filmmakers including Matthew Barney, Micah Schaeffer, Rachel Johnson and Alrick Brown of IFC’s “Film School” fame—he is clearly talented enough to go it alone.
This Brooklynite officially released “Being, Human” at a January 19 performance at Piano’s on the Lower East Side. Visit mattrocker.com for upcoming shows.