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Autumn Classics

Rock for a fall mood

By Karl Byrn

Rock music is full of "summer classics"--fun music about carefree thrills and relaxing in the sun. Well-loved music like the Beach Boys' Endless Summer, the Drifters' Golden Hits, and Sly and the Family Stone's "Hot Fun in the Summertime" all play along with rock's youthful, communal pleasure principle.

Autumn classics are less obvious. They offer thrills as well, but with a dramatic turn to mature reflection. Rock for a fall mood gives a sentimental nod to its sunny past, but more strikingly, it uncovers themes of reluctant change, decay and lonely self-assessment. Summer classics are airy and optimistic; autumn music is moody, pondering where it's been and where it dreads to go.

These discs have images, ideas and intentions befitting "autumn classics":

'September of My Years,' Frank Sinatra

Melancholic and martini mellow, September isn't the crisp big-band swing from the June of Frank's years. But the easy-listening ballad orchestration isn't so easy--every nuance of every song is saturated with a forlorn sigh. The song titles reveal how purposeful this album is: "Last Night When We Were Young," "It Was a Very Good Year," "Don't Wait Too Long," "Hello, Young Lovers." Sinatra isn't just reflecting; he's willing us his hazy wisdom so thoroughly that the final cover of Kurt Weill's "September Song" is a moot point.

'Sharpen Your Teeth,' Ugly Casanova

Odd, wheezing arrangements hum with embers of life on this side project from Isaac Brock of alt-rockers Modest Mouse. Ripe autumn-decay imagery applies to both relationships and the body. The pungent awareness on "Hotcha Girls" that "Old folks' homes smell so much like my own" is evocatively unpleasant. It's almost a relief when the band finally moans the last instrumental jaunt "So Long to the Holidays."

'Night Moves,' Bob Seger

Early on in the title track, Seger almost has a great summer classic going, missing his "sweet, sweet summertime" of awkward small-town teenage sex. But the final verse wises up, soberly noting, "Strange how the night moves / With autumn closin' in." There's still heat on cuts like "The Fire Down Below," though tracks like "Mainstreet" and "Rock and Roll Never Forgets" reach for one last chance while admitting that things are cooling down.

'The College Dropout,' Kanye West

This recent chart-topper is about wrestling with decision making. With his first turn as a rapper-artist, all-star hip-hop producer West creates a character who's at a crossroads of back-to-school bitterness and self-definition. It's a story of disappointment set somewhere between "Graduation Day," fraternities and the tasty smells of holiday-based "Family Business." The hit "Jesus Walks" scares the character from restless doubt back to his roots.

'Tim,' The Replacements

Punk bard Paul Westerberg opens this flailing album about failure, beckoning that "it's time for decisions to be made." One of those decisions is "quitting school and going to work / And never going fishing." Another is only visiting relatives' graves on holidays. The blade-twisting final ballad "Here Comes a Regular" uses unfinished chores as a metaphor for alcoholic remorse: "Summer's passed / It's too late to cut the grass / Ain't much to rake anyways in the fall."

'Astral Weeks,' Van Morrison

Morrison's best early solo songs, "Brown-Eyed Girl" and "T.B. Sheets," were a contrast of warm, playful remembrance and a cold death stare. Astral Weeks was his next step, exploding both threads into a wispy, epic glance over the shoulder. At this juncture of reminiscence and farewell, his jazz-folk Celtic soul smiles, bleeds, shudders and hunkers down.

'Vol. 4,' Black Sabbath

Ozzy's first band excelled at winter music, and here, the trudging frostbite of "Snowblind" is ready to rock into late January. But Vol. 4 really suits autumn. The band state the obvious in a non-Sabbath way (the piano ballad "Changes") and act like they want to wake up in the sand after a July beach party (the acoustic instrumental "Laguna Sunrise"). Oz muses over the past, but he mainly shows his age by repeatedly worrying about losing his mind.

'Bookends,' Simon and Garfunkel

A brisk New York City chill hangs over this folk-pop gem. "At the Zoo" is a pure fall Polaroid, while "Mrs. Robinson" is a complex tale of denial. The stark two-minute track "Voices of Old People" is exactly what it says, yet that bit of realism is followed by the gorgeous younger-days ballad "Old Friends." There's also desperation ("A Hazy Shade of Winter") and dissatisfaction ("Fakin' It"). Finally, there's the repeating "Bookends Theme," which returns to old friends.

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From the October 13-19, 2004 issue of the North Bay Bohemian.

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