So, if you’re going into this, you need to prepare yourselves. You need to brace yourselves for the rawness, the thunder, the desperation, the tenderness, the rage, the love, the abyss, the hope.
Don’t expect to be comfortable when you listen to this. Furman gives us one break – the remarkable lovesong ‘I wanna be your girlfriend’, which we’ll come back to – but everywhere else, he addresses us with his roaring, on-the-edge-of-igniting vocals, the blistering pace of his delivery, and the relentless onrush of the crashing drums and shuddering guitars that propel this LP.
I have loved this album, both for what’s in it and what it represents.
Every time I open it up and ‘Calm Down’ kicks off I can’t help but smile; I’m waiting for the first moment that the bass And then I think to myself: it’s not a happy record, what the fuck are you smiling for ? And other than the exhilaration of the music, it’s the solidarity that comes from someone giving form to many of the things roiling around in my head.
Furman channels so much of what so many of us are thinking about rich and poor. ‘Evening Prayer’ is a call to arms, to “translate your love into action/and participate in the fight right now”. ‘In America’ pisses on the graves of the dynasties that built the world for the dynasties that inherited the world: “don’t give a shit what Ben Franklin intended/What slaveowner men said – glad they’re all dead”.
And there’s ‘Trauma’, in fact and in song. For the first couple of days, the record got stuck here; I had to keep replaying this because the narrative that Furman unveils is so precise, so persuasive. It’s a perfect distillation of the way in which we’re all getting fucked by the richest few, and the poorest the most-fucked of all. At the end of it all, there is some hope though, or at least a wish that it might all change, “let the ivory tower know the power we wield/they know we got ’em and empire’s in its autumn/when it’s built from the bottom and the bottom won’t build”. I haven’t felt so compelled by rock like this since Jeff Buckley’s ‘The Sky Is A Landfill’; those two tunes are beautiful, brutal cousins.
That trauma is also depression, anxiety, heartbreak, isolation that runs through this record. ‘Blown’ is a brief squall that crashes the second half of the album, featuring a narrator burst “like a tire, like an amplifier”, trapped “in a city with no readily available love”. The lovelorn ‘Transition From Nowhere to Nowhere’ is a sadly accurate reflection of the reality of depression (at least from this sufferer’s experience): “and if you’re really at the end of your rope/no you don’t take the night off/too many demons to fight off”. It’s refreshing to hear someone talking not just about feelings of sadness, but the physical drag and pain of it. “I don’t know how I’m doing lately, fuck you if you ask”.
The most important thing for me, however, is the queerness of this record. I can’t make up my mind if that’s a reductive thing to do, to focus on one thing, to conclude importance on that basis ? All I know is that it matters hugely to me that Ezra Furman is singing about “considering ditching Ezra and going by Esme” on that lovely ballad that I mentioned earlier. It matters hugely to me that he sings about “wishing/that the real me might be the one you want”. It matters hugely to me that he sings about being “like a John on speed/in the alley by a dirty gay club”. It matters hugely to me that he sings about “the kind of sex you want is the kind they’d like to make illegal”, that he sings about “bisexual blues”, that he sings that “polarized and binary is really not my scene”, that he sings about when “I tried to ask what it means to be a man/they threw me in the back of a truck and they tied my hands.”
I’m a straight, cisgendered, white, middle-class man. The society in which I live is set up for me to succeed in, and for people who aren’t like me to be beaten by. I don’t want that system. I don’t want heteronormativity. I don’t want patriarchy. I don’t want white supremacy. I don’t want poverty. And if we’re ever going to escape those dreadful, deadly forces then we need Ezra, and people like him, doing what he is doing.
What I also don’t want to leave you is down. I agree with the artist themselves, when they say that this record leaves you space for positivity. Despite all the horrors it deals with, this album gives me the energy to keep going, to keep fighting. It closes, after all, first with the acceptance that “when you’re playing canary and they’re selling the coal/what can you do but rock ‘n’ roll?”. And then, on closing track ‘On Your Own’, the realisation that there is hope. Maybe if we get fighting we can also reach that point when “tonight is our night/this rose is finally blooming/and I’m feeling really human once again”.
So what Ezra wants to say to us, now that he’s got our attention, is that we need to “deliver that fire to the real world/and tell ’em E. Furman sent you”.
He’s also got a question for us:
ARE YOU READY FOR TRANS POWA ?
Yes, please, Ezra, yes please.