Slobberbone – Slippage

Slippage (2002)


1. Springfield, IL 2. Stupid Words 3. Write Me Off 4. Sister Beams 5. Butchers 6. Sweetness, That’s Your Cue 7. To Love Somebody 8. Find the Out 9. Down Town Again 10. Live on in the Dark 11. Back


Like a beloved TV show unceremoniously cancelled in the middle of a season, or the restaurant you’re dining in’s kitchen catching fire before it can crank out your dessert, Slippage wraps up Slobberbone’s discography in a manner that feels unsatisfyingly cut short. It reeks of unfulfilled promise, first of all, because it marks a clear new delineation in Brent’s songwriting approach, complete with ‘60ish chords, neo-psych-tinged production, sad-sack characters, and various other elements that make it obvious he was listening to a shit ton of Elliot Smith at the time (not to mention a friggin’ Bee Gees cover). And yet despite its evolutionary traits, its rough hewn, largely stripped down sound feels like a definitive step backwards from the careful and varied arrangements on Everything You Thought Was Right Was Wrong Today.

There is comfort to be had in the fact that Brent and (most of) the rest of the band ultimately managed to tie up these loose threads four years later as the Drams with Jubilee Dive, which is much more immersive in the pop-inflected style birthed on Slippage, as well as more compositionally ambitious and thus a better bookend for the impressive catalog of songs Brent had built up over the course of just a few albums. But that’s cheating a little. Even if that was a new band mostly in name only, that new name did give them license to take a bolder departure from what had come before. Maybe Brent would have taken Slobberbone further in that direction had they stayed together, but it seems doubtful based on how tentatively Slippage gesticulates towards new sounds, like they wanted to reinvent themselves but were afraid of pissing off the, I dunno, seven or eight diehards they had following them. Although the album is entirely solid and there’s not a bad song to be found, hearing the band go out sounding sort of unsure of themselves still leaves a bitter taste in the mouth.

Basically, everything sounds kind of stuck in the middle. Like, they wanted to introduce a lusher instrumental palette, but went “fuck it” and decided that throwing a Wurlitzer on “Find the Out” was enough. Or they were trying for a warmer guitar tone, but then they bash out something like “Write Me Off” in the same raw, off-the-cuff way they would have on Crow Pot Pie so it just ends up sounding thin. Maybe they just didn’t have the budget; maybe they didn’t want to rankle the closed-minded alt-country fanbase; maybe they were tired and had a thing the next day, so they all just decided to go home to shower and get some rest instead of finishing the album. I don’t know. But most of these tracks, even darn good Slobberbone songs like “Springfield, IL” and “Butchers,” just sound like they’re missing something, like they’re demos to be elaborated on later. It also doesn’t help that it doesn’t seem like Brent had figured out how to sing the poppier material yet; on a couple of songs (“Write Me Off” and “Down Town Again” especially) it sounds like he’s fumbling around for a hooky melody but just can’t quite find it.

Possibly the only exception to all this is my favorite cut, “Sister Beams,” on which the phasered guitar, lilting piano, and Brent’s warm, melodic delivery are more than enough to persuade me that Slobberbone could have made a convincing power pop band had they kept at it. And the song itself it just classic Brent, with the way he almost casually slips in a fleeting touch of the macabre amidst the tale of a jilted bride: “You see, now he’s dead, he must have lost his head when I struck him/With what to do.” But if twangy Slobberbone is all you will accept, then be sure to stick around for the acoustic closer “Back.” Both musically and thematically, it makes for a fitting capstone for Slobberbone’s discography. On the surface, it’s about an asshole envisioning a future in which his friends forgive and embrace him – perhaps in vain. But one can just as easily interpret it as a commentary on Slobberbone’s career:

When I find my way back
No one will deny
How much I care for them
How hard that I’ve tried

When I find my way back
You will know it by and by
That all the hype was justified

Of course, Brent never quite “found his way back.” There’s no triumph or redemption to be had in this story, and knowing that only makes “Back” more tragic in retrospect. And as with most Slobberbone songs, that only makes it better.

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