An anxious Sort of Optimism
How does one describe Ezra Furman? Do you take the David Bowie angle and discuss the anxiety that came with his propensity for wearing lipstick and pearls; and how this anxiety was eased by none other than the gender-ambiguous and fellow bisexual rocker, Lou Reed? Or do you take the more upbeat, less expected angle and talk about how both he and his music are a sort of giant one finger salute to the expectations older generations hold towards today’s youngsters? The answer, of course as it always is, is both. The music Furman makes on his third full-length effort, Perpetual Motion People, is as rough as the artists who helped Furman find himself and just as irreverent–maybe even more so.
The best part about the whole album is Furman is in on the joke. Both jokes, actually. The jokes that could be made about him gallivanting all over town in purple eyeshadow and the ones often made about his generation, claiming the millennials are self-centered and self-absorbed. He cuts both of these opinions off at the head–before it becomes a hydra–by combining them. For most of the album he uses the musical and instrumental template of the baby boomer parents–fifties doo-wop and rock ‘n’ roll and jazz–while he sings about the anxieties of the recession generation.
This mix of the new and the old is best heard in the beginning of the record. Particularly on the opening track, “Restless Year,” where Furman combines fifties doo-wop melodies with frenzied synth riffs and funked-out bass lines. And he sings, with that perpetual scratch in his throat about, “Making the rounds in [his] five dollar dress,” how he “can’t go home, though [he’s] not homeless,” claiming he’s “just another savage in the wilderness.” In Furman’s world, everything is fine, but nothing is ok.
Still, he is willing to make fun of it. As on the aforementioned opener and “Lousy Connection,” which takes the fifties vibe up a notch with a genuine shuffle, barbershop quartet and jazz, as Furman confesses “modern society’s [his] one secret weakness and he’s “out of money and [he’s] out of [his] mind.” Other places, like “Hark! To the Music” he takes from anti-folk heroes, Andrew Jackson Jihad and Violent Femmes, and it turns out to be one of the best songs on the record.
There are times on the album when Furman’s voice is warble and scrape, so it’s hard to connect with him emotionally. Then there are instances like “Body Was Made” where he waxes and wanes in such and exuberant way about who he is and how people can be whatever they want. It is an anxious sort of optimism; an anxious sort of hope.