I’m probably going to get crucified over this, but I prefer Owen to American Football. Don’t get me wrong, put down the burning torches, barrels of tar, and chicken feathers. Hear me out! I still rate highly the many adventures of American Football, Owls, Cap’n Jazz, Owls and Their / They’re / There, but the one Mike Kinsella musical enterprise that ripped my heart, stomped on it and threw it into the Bay was Owen. Kinsella‘s insanely good talent for lyrical writing is as honest and brutal as they come. I believe Owen‘s music deftly tackles subjects like growing old, alcoholism and religion, painting a Turner-like image of life. Never has depictions of the bleakest parts of life sounded so gorgeous.
And here we are, 2016, with The King of Whys again performing open heart surgery while driving to Point Reyes in a rickety old VW Safari. The sun pierces through the evergreen trees, a SUV overtakes you and you wonder, for a moment, what does it all mean? Confusion flows through your veins. Midlife crisis, self-realisation and a feeling of dread are riding shotgun. What to do? Options: Keep driving while still having your heart ripped off by synths and plucked guitars of ‘Tourniquet’. Crash into the ocean and let the sea lions play with your recently bereft of life corpse.
Or just keep driving. See where it all takes you. Enjoy the ride. Don’t mind the 3.50 a gallon of gas prices. Take the hit and move forward.
Ahem, I seem to be lost in a driving analogy in lieu of reviewing Owen‘s The King of Whys but there is a reason: I’ve always paired the idea of life as a highway that goes along the coast. Some parts will greet you with smiling skies and vast blue oceans, others will be hairpin turns where a single mistake will cost you dearly. And the music of Owen, mostly since Ghost Town, really fits this.
The wisdom of age. Sometimes the mysteries of human behaviour can only be understood when you reach certain milestones. ‘Burning soul’ reflects on Kinsella‘s father, never taking a black or white approach, and eventually understanding that we are our parents’ reflection, distilled and re-packaged with a few improvements and maybe a new flaw here and there.
‘Lovers come and go’ contains great advice for both the young and the young at heart. Again, this is the wisdom of age, wrapped up in warm acoustics, seal and delivered with a friendly kiss. Maybe you’ll pay heed, maybe you’ll end up crashing against Heartbreak Wall (TM) again. Who knows? It’s life. We will get bruised and battered and we won’t get out of this one alive.
I’m on my fifth (!) draft of this review, having slimmed it down from a 2000 mammoth of self-indulgent rants and pithy comments about age. The more I listen to The King of Whys, the more paragraphs I jettison. I would only be describing what Kinsella pulls off, not doing a proper analysis. I believe this is one of the strongest albums by Owen because it’s catharsis without the hyperbole. It’s a confessional without rose-tinted glasses. It’s a depiction of life, good and bad, because it’s the hand we will play with as long as there’s breath in our bodies. Mike Kinsella understood something about growing up, being a father, creating art, living, that resonates with us. He never sugar-coats it. There’s no need for it because that would be dilution, not depiction. Kinsella has always been truthful in his art, in every single of his bands, and it’s this honesty what makes The King of Whys such a memorable trip through the tupsy-turvy highway of this sunlit, amazingly complicated life.
Words: Sam J. Valdés López