APRIL 2005 ISSUE
A Season Cycle For All Seasons
Nothing Means Anything – Adam McIntyre
An emerging pop artist usually doesn’t make such leaps – but this would be the equivalent of The Beatles jumping from Please Please Me, their first, directly to Help! or Rubber Soul. I’m speaking of the sophomore offering by Montgomery, Alabama native Adam McIntyre.
His 2003 debut, Rockstars & Superheroes, was a power-chord driven rallying cry of arrival for McIntyre. The opening song “Kids” charged in with thumping anticipation, emulating (or sampling from) the sound of an actual gig. And lest people think McIntyre was just singing to a general ‘you’, he gave a nod to “the kid in the front who never ever misses a show/You never see anybody with him, his only friend is rock and roll.” The sweet willingness to immediately ally himself with the underdog is a window into McIntyre’s depth of perception and heart.
By contrast, Nothing Means Anything is a virtual cathedral consisting of numerous stained-glass windows. For the uninitiated, here are some touchstones: McIntyre’s vocal styling is akin to Matthew Sweet, but with a broader range a la Glenn Tilbrook. Lyrically, he is capable of being as raw as Jeff Tweedy or as pop-minded as Jellyfish; and instrumentally, he is in a rare class by himself, as he has played almost all of the instruments on this disc. Ultimately, any influence real or perceived is irrelevant, as the results are uniquely a one-man statement.
Nothing Means Anything is a song cycle, chronicling a year in the life of McIntyre – a messy trip through “divorce, desperation, and deliverance through new-found love.” Indeed, this is the Portrait of the Artist as The Underdog, but never cloying. When McIntyre comes out of the gate with the seemingly-breezy “Your Only Friend” by declaring “It’s hard”, the listener might worry. As the story line progresses, and our rockstar/superhero is putting on the headphones and turning to music to block out the pain of a disintegrating relationship, more worry might set in. Or rather, something wonderful happens: there’s a recognition that this singer – ensconced in a comfortable studio – is actually a lot like the next guy. Quite simply, the tune is an amped-up, updated counterpart to The Beach Boys’ “Add Some Music”.
McIntyre doesn’t eschew his earlier fanbase, however, as the second track “Half Dead” delivers the hard-rocking, power-chord goodies in spades, with the scathing lead-guitar break that leaves the jaw dropped at its brilliance. Reminiscent of his earlier efforts, at first blush – but oh, that’s too simple of a reading, for the thrash-and-bash mirrors the vitriol and brashness of an extremely bad breakup. This is not completely moshpit fodder. And with the line “I have to believe there is someone out there who is tired of dying on the inside,” McIntyre offers up sheer poetry. You see, if this disc is a reflection of McIntyre’s spirit and experience, then we are looking at a man who really is wearing his heart on his sleeve. But he’s not content to just let that be, and to bubble over. He wants to understand how he arrived at this point. “Love Is the Answer” is the hook-laden song that acts as the counterpart to the previously discussed tune, where the same amount of drive is now refashioned into something affirming and uplifting; it’s defiant as much as “Half Dead” was desperate.
McIntyre takes a series of unexpected detours, which really mirrors the course of life, relationships, and love. One of the kindest detours can be found in “Song for Heather”, which showcases jaunty keyboards and mid-‘60s “doo-doo” harmonies a la The Beach Boys or Turtles, laced with a baroque woodwind frame. This is followed by my favorite track on the album, “Fireworks” – its pulse is acoustic, its lyrics are deeply impressionistic, and the harmonies absolutely melt the heart. We need more harmonies like this on the next disc; McIntyre parcels them out here and on “Cotton Candy”, probably in the interest of restraint. But when you’ve got it, flaunt it.
The whole affair caps off with an unlisted bonus track, which to my ears is really the true end of this disc. Without giving away too much, it is Pet Sounds-esque in its closure. So Adam McIntyre remains a rockstar and a superhero, of a sort, but more importantly he refashions himself as an artist who’s not afraid to tell you his story straight. If the last disc was metaphorically for the kid in the front row at the show, this latest rich achievement is for the one (slightly older and a bit wiser) going through similar experiences and listening very closely to what a kindred soul has to offer.