Day Forty-Two: Revisiting “The Best Album You’ve Never Heard” in the Wake of a Revelation

by Tom Noonan

Last November, I wrote a blog post about an album called Comeback Cadillac by a little known Mississippi band called The Weeks.  Over the weekend, I saw The Weeks at the Milkboy in Philly.  Their door-busting riffs redeemed my soul, made a couple bloggers true believers, and all around verified the hyperbolic breakdown of their indie debut I had written more than a year before.  I love this band.  As I also wrote in July, they’ll be important soon.  Take note:

Article: Comeback Cadillac, A Song by Song Breakdown of the Greatest Album You’ve Never Heard, Revised

I will not get into this band’s history as it seems somewhat unnecessary at this entry point.  Just know a few things about them: they are called The Weeks, they are from Mississippi, and they made one of the best albums you’ve never heard.  This is that album:

Album: Comeback Cadillac

The tracks:

1. Comeback Cadillac

A slow, monotone count of “1…2…1…2…3…4” leads into an explosion of six-string chaos and drum kick rage that won’t let the last number escape ahead of it.  The Weeks are a warpath here for initially inexplicable reasons, but you can tell they’re in control and know full well where this furious march is going.  The first lyrics are gnarled in a hard-core punky growl yet manage to entertain the notion of explication.  Maybe this is what the album will be about: “Airplanes and speedtrains and my god she’s leavin'”.  It’s all sudden and hurried but pulls you in with an intensity that could be alienating in another group’s hands yet remains hard to ignore here.  It may be the least-listenable track on the record, but it’s also fucking ballsy as an opener.  Given the rest of the record, this track hardly fits in tone and pace.  It must have been included for some reason.  Stay tuned.

2.  Teary-Eyed Woman

The second song on the album pulls you from the assault of the opener, coming up for a breather and actively slowing your heartbeat with a brief yet wandering intro that draws comparisons to Decemberists-molded jamming.  It doesn’t really go anywhere, finding an abrupt ending to its wanderlust, but it’s a crucial step in what is about to happen.

After the intro fades, a handful of somewhat disjointed muted chords form the gruff root riff of the song, and once again the album transfixes itself to the gas pedal, unrepentantly drawing you right back into the madness of it all.  When the first lyrics arrive and are attached to the drawling, focused depths of a new narrator, it’s not at all surprising.  There’s still urgency here, but a relative calm has inspired order over the beautiful, yet ultimately problematic, chaos of the opener.  This track sounds like a completely separate band, with different goals and influences, but the first verse returns us to familiar territory: entropic climaxes held close by Cain Barnes’s rhythmic pulse.  The lyrics here are somewhat vague but deal directly with a troubled, and troubling, emotional woman.  Her power is in lack of complete definition.  Not even the narrator seems to fully grasp her intentions, and his backing band, forcing itself uptempo while simultaneously attempting to maintain its initial riff-heavy quality, mimics this sentiment.  They each seem to be attempting to convince the other of a truth neither one actually believes.

3.  Altar Girl

Here is the scenery, a song that isn’t overly complicated, but sweet, and sits on the track list as something to enjoy while you venture deeper into the record.  There isn’t so much of a riff here as there is a tender gleam comforting the listener.  Another complicated girl forms the song’s center, and a religious struggle complicates the familiarity.  But none of that seems too important.  This one’s all about aesthetics.

4. Hold It, Kid (Your Heart Just Stopped)

This is when it all changes.  This track, with its unflinching change of genre and pace, strips the album of accumulated identity.  It’s not a fresh start, just a new narrative colliding with the recognizable.  There is no precedent for this change.  It’s never fully explained, but the orientation that is seemingly inherent to the band’s transition is masterful.  This is even before the song fully hits, and then it’ll just blow you the fuck away.

“Hold It Kid” has thick folk roots and structure to it, but what lays you out are the drug-habit infused lyrics that feel truly heart to limb to pen, even if they aren’t.  With it, a brand new perspective is brought onto an album that before could’ve been distilled down to a core of over-wrought thematic elements.  This track widens the album, its scope now adjusted to contain the brutal lives of a Mississippi underbelly you didn’t even realize was there.  The first three tracks before it, at this point, feel like a prologue, an insight into a life that could have been.  Now there are only cold rooms and needles and familial dissolution manifested in the tears being erased from faces.  Despite claims to the contrary, everything isn’t, and won’t be, alright.  There aren’t many songs like this one.

5. Buttons

We’ve reached the heart of the album.  Here’s where it becomes the real deal, where Comeback Cadillac surpasses every other album like it.  The riff on “Buttons” can feel 90s familiar but that plays into the songs favor; it plays more as context than hook.  Here, The Weeks are at their most gorgeously deceptive: confidently leading us into a quaint portrait of two young lovers with a knack for cute dialogue (as most young lovers on rock records tend to have) only to subvert these images and turn them into something distinctively ugly within the same verse.  All of a sudden she’s holding a knife to his throat and death wishes are doled out like affectionate kisses were only a few moments before.  The two still kiss, but it seems different now, the portrait has changed forever.  This is what Cyle Barnes does so well, taking us through the rock thematic looking glass if only to struggle with what exactly that can mean.  Here young love is stunted by the world Barnes constructed in “Hold it Kid”.  Nothing in this relationship is cute anymore, and the ugly reality we’ve been shown exists in tragic contrast to the melody powering everything forward.  But holy shit is it a good song.

Perhaps this song has been written before, but it was never this easy to listen to.  Here The Weeks wrap the emotional context of a Springsteen yarn in Southern Comfort colored paper.  “Buttons”, in many ways, plays how I’d imagine Nurse Ratched from One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest would play if she were a song: a beautiful face, but a fucking crazy heart, mind, and soul; yet, in the end, undeniably engaging and impossible to turn off.

6. Mississippi Rain

You know the scene in High Fidelity when John Cusack walks through the rain for the first time and tries to talk to Laura from a pay-phone?  This is the soundtrack to that part of the movie.  Only, in this updated version, the Cusack archetype is strung out and brandishing a gun.  Barnes is refitting a pop-culture standard to the overly-destructive narrative of the album, and it somehow all works.

7. Dog Days

The Weeks rewrite “Summer Lovin'” for their drug-addicted and innocence-bereft heroes, who may just be anti-heroes depending on where you stand.  Containing lyrics honoring the power of music and love, as well as a moment of harsh clarity where the rapidity of their future appears to care less about abstractions such as those, Dog Days lacks the same happy ending that eventually accompanied the Grease template.  It is in this overt rejection of love song conventions that the song succeeds.

8.  The House That We Grew Up In

Comeback Cadillac is an album born from risks, both big and small, that are mostly egregiously without calculation.  Breaking the fourth wall is one of these immense risks that pays huge dividends for the lyrically powered vehicle this album turns out to be.  The idea of breaking the fourth wall is a complicated one because, when mishandled, it can feel cheap and, at its worst, lazy.  Woody Allen pioneered fourth wall destruction with Annie Hall, but The Weeks take no cues from the comedian.  Their direct relation to the audience takes on a different form, one that creates an undefined relationship between listener and singer, filling up this particular track with a glorious haze of The Real.  It also pushes the album to its breaking point.

The premise of the track, a bar show which The Weeks themselves are headlining, is objectively awful.  Sold to me in just those terms, I would’ve never given it a chance, but Barnes approaches the material with a visceral force that imposes the hungover vagueness that permeates his album without seeming distancing.  Here, Barnes splays out a distrustful narrative made up of the smells and brief memories he can piece together.  It’s a song about the haze following a night as massive as the one he attempts to describe, and the girl at its center is wonderfully enticing despite never being fully formed.  Rising up from “a sea of nicotine beaten teenage”, Barnes and co. rally around an anthemic chorus that peaks with their repeated creed, “They can’t stop us, no they can’t stop us now.”  The song’s conceit might be a little pretentious, but God damn it, I want to be a rock star.

Or at least a local legend.

9. Wishin’ My Week Away

Another entropic trip to the band’s default mode.  Local bars, rough sex, and week-long benders.  This song is fucking awesome.

10. Sailor Song

If “Altar Girl” is the aesthetic track, then “Sailor Song” exists on a plane separate from everything else on the album.  It breaks from the overall narrative while maintaining its tone.  The tenth track elevates the crude, complicated relationships expressed throughout Comeback Cadillac to their illogical conclusion.  It’s a song about the simplicity of love and how it can, in death, be complicated by its ultimately defeating nature.  Separation is the context, but a bleeding, beating heart forms its core.  “Sailor Song” manages to overwhelm you, reforming the album into something that is all-consuming in its bleak portraits but also allows you to accept the most hopeful of lyrics:

“Well if love is all you have
Well then baby that’s not bad
And if love is all you got
Then that’s a hell of a lot”

“Sailor Song” feels like a departure from the Mississippi Barnes has helped us come to know, and had the album ended here, there is a very fair argument to be made about the unfair treatment of its audience: to leave them with this relatively uncomplicated and hopeful conclusion amidst the constant turmoil in which the record exists could come off as a cop out.  Perhaps the best part about this song is that it doesn’t end the album.

11. The Ballad of Tonto Higgins

The perfect ending to an imperfect narrative, “The Ballad of Tonto Higgins” is the album’s final complication, a song that at once refocuses the larger narrative while simultaneously propelling its themes towards questions and problems left unsolved.  The song is harsh and represents the musical antithesis of the track directly before it.  It’s full of anger and resentment and exists completely bereft of the hope mingling amongst the album’s earlier riffs.  Over the course of five minutes, Barnes contemplates suicide, demolishes all girls that don’t believe in him in a way only Drake seemed capable of (“You can sell my things and keep my mother’s ring/You can curse my name, spit on my grave, or fuck for fame” is undoubtedly on the same level as anything off Take Care, including “Shot for Me”), and touches on religion once again.

The most important thing this song does is struggle with the band’s very existence.  In a much more subtle dismantling of the fourth wall, Barnes muses on the idea of fading away into indie rock obscurity.  He sounds urgent in his worries to remain visible and claim some sort of relevancy.  “I will sing until my throat it bleeds” he howls in a return to the opener’s fury.  Here, though, Barnes is fully recognizable in his true-believing lyrical avatar.  But then he counters with “Oh, but I’m pretty sure this voice will be the death of me.”  There are no delusions in Barnes’s Mississippi, only those who inevitably fade away.  If he’s figured all that out now, does he have a chance of breaking the cycle?  It’s a messy ending.  It’s also perfect.

This band will be important.