It would be so easy to compare Stephen Yerkey to Tom Waits. Both are
rooted in traditional genres including blues, folk, jazz and country. Both are
cracked to the core, deep bubbling wells of weirdness oozing out of
well-made song structures. Both are unclassifiable...
But no, too
easy. Stephen Yerkey is Stephen Yerkey, his haunting falsetto drifting out
of cheesy bossa-nova ballads like Jeff Buckley in a psychotic trance state,
his sinister ZZ Top guitar vamp overlaid with surreal visions of violence,
his closely constructed lyrical lines studded with alternate
pronunciations ("hookacalyptus" trees and "oona"-bombers.) This is about
as odd an album as you'll ever love, and if it creeps you out late at night
as it plays over and over in your head, don't say I didn't warn you.
Like his last record, 1994's Confidence Man, Metaneonatureboy
was produced by Eric Drew Feldman, who is, perhaps, responsible for the
clarity and polish on this very eccentrically constructed album. Feldman
has, of course, worked with such mainstream artists as PJ Harvey, the
Polyphonic Spree and Frank Black, but none of them have ever written a song
like "My Baby Loves the Western Violence" or "Cadillacs of That Color,"
both so freakishly good that they might have come from a parallel
universe. In fact, the entire middle section of Metaneonatureboy,
everything from "Alice McAllister" to "Link Wray's Girlfriend," is
transcendent stuff of the funhouse-mirror variety. The slower, more
sentimental cuts have their virtues, but Yerkey's metier is satire,
delivered so dead seriously that you can only hope he's kidding.
"Cadillacs of That Color" starts as a spoken-word piece; against the moan
of horns and the sound of incoming tide, Yerkey's high, scratchy voice
describes a school field trip to San Francisco's Golden Gate Park. He regales
with the glories of nature, flora and fauna in Technicolor detail, then a
teacher asks if the class can relate all this to anything else they
know. "I have seen Cadillacs of that color..." comes the chorus,
rollicking and sardonic, as Yerkey links "Salvia of red, purple, green and
blue" to the Reverend Ike's flashy ride. ("And I said, 'Reverend Ike, how
can you help people/ Riding in a car that looks like a long dill pickle?'
and he fixed me with an intense stare and said,/ 'Little Boy, how can I help
people riding a bicycle?'") Subsequent verses compare teenaged hookers and
beaten-to-death drifters to "Cadillacs of that color," while slyly sending
up sex and cops and middle-class anxieties about parking in bad
neighborhoods. The song is very funny, all the more so because it is
delivered with absolute deadpan seriousness.
The best song, though, is "My Baby Love the Western Violence," which
relentlessly piles up the noir images, one after the other. The girl in
this song is one scary lady, who "love the severed loggers, the river
rapists and the serrated joggers..." among other lurid things. The lyrics
are wicked fun, full of jagged lines and unusual words that rhymed, and it
all sits atop a smoky, Sam Spade musical vibe, with blowsy sax and
whammy-bent guitar chords adding to the general dissolution.
This is brilliantly individual stuff, so odd and off-kilter that you almost
don't notice the skill behind the songs. It's there, though. Anyone can
sing crazy stuff... very few can make it as madly coherent and compelling as