The Starvations - Get Well Soon
Gabriel Hart, vocalist of L.A. five-piece The Starvations, seems to me to be an older, broken and seedy Conor Oberst supplement for kids who grew up reading used copies of The Flowers of Evil and water-damaged library books by Hubert Selby, Jr. If all the addictions Hart sings about on this record are true, he isn't the precocious poet you'd want to bring home to ma because he could drop dead any second; if he's invented this stuff then he's chosen a more detailed terrain than the oft-times preciously obtuse Oberst, more a writer of pretty words than a chronicler of any generation.
On Get Well Soon, The Starvations' second full-length, instead of moralizing tales of a girl who cries when she plays violin, we have a guy realizing he just murdered someone in a drunken haze and a fuck-up leaning on a girl's doorbell for two days until he passes out in his car: "You tripled your dosage, washed it down with some rum, you ate all your candy and refused to leave me some. Oh you are a shining star, hanging in a sky of tar." Basically: catchy bits about boys who love girls who love drugs who love no one.
The words I've read thus far about The Starvations compare Hart to Jeffrey Lee Pierce of The Gun Club, who died from a blood clot in his brain while visiting his pops in Utah. I get the comparison, but Hart has more of Oberst's built-in quavering tremolo than Pierce's cool when he shouts and wheezes like a dyspeptic drama major about houses of love built of crumbling sand. Mix in Robert Smith (Hart even has Smith's spidery hair) and John Doe's beat stuff, then back our broken troubadour with The Bad Seeds, The Pogues, or 16 Horsepower and you're getting closer to the soul of this scruffy-ass stuff.
I like Hart's subject matter, his hobo appearance, and his "Skulls" vocal patterning, but his work isn't perfect. Succumbing at times to lyrical fluffiness, he strings together stock images of damage without giving these moments three-dimensionality. Because not all of the lyrics gel beyond general claims about being high and sad, a number of the songs are similar and the constant onslaught of rebel bard gets tiring. For example, "An American Funeral" begs for a less ceremonious death, telling loved ones to avoiding paying to an embalmer-- to save money for a shrink-- promising "my body's well preserved with all the alcohol I drink." Ho hum? Nick Cave's always been good at detailed storytelling, as are Tom Waits and, yeah, Jeffrey Lee Pierce. Nope, my generation has yet to unearth its Leonard Cohen. (I'd even say Oberst can be a better storyteller, especially in those tales of his brother drowning without a name, but the stuff still reeks of the sad singer playing tragic.)
Like The Pogues, The Starvations are a bar band in the best sense of the term: semi-accurate sods kicking up a bluesy dust around loosely tight songs about the underbelly of the city. There's enough personality in the band's decaying rock arsenal to keep you glued to the crumbling stage for at least a chunk of their rag-tag set, just not enough to inspire you to leave a tear in your beer or bring their CD home to your depressing apartment.
1 This Is What You Wanted?
2 Pray For Fol Play
3 Hide And Go Seek
4 Red Wine
5 An American Funeral
6 Rebel Angel
7 Recipe For A Mess
8 Oh Deputy!
9 Upon Your Request
10 Not Me This Time
11 Post-Climax Exhaustion