Bryan Berg’s Rockin’ Horse: a journey through banality

Sometimes, upon hearing an album for the first time, all I want to do is talk to the musician who made it. This often occurs if the album is uncommonly, uniquely good. Maybe it’s because, while I worship the creative process and love making new things up, I can’t understand how musicians do it with such regularity. So many good songs have already been written that every time I hear an arrangement of notes that is both like nothing I’ve ever heard before and fascinating to listen to, I’m surprised and relieved.

It seems like all the good songs should be taken at some point, but musicians always manage to create more of them. I would love to know how they get ideas for songs, and make the ideas materialize. I’d love to talk to, say, the members of Guster, Elliott Smith, Jack Johnson or Ben Folds (whose music my roommate and I have been downloading nonstop since Thursday, as I’m sure is the case for lots of you), and just ask them how they do what they do and how they know when their songs are finished and perfect.

At the same time, if an album is uncommonly bad, I find myself wanting to talk to the musician who made it. Mostly, I want to know why it is that, throughout the mysterious and complex process of songwriting, at no point did it occur to the musician that the music he or she was creating simply wasn’t good. Music is such a visceral, emotional art form that bad music is usually pretty easy to identify, especially if it comes out of your own mind, making you even more familiar with it. I want to talk to artists who have created bad music simply to figure out what went wrong.

For this reason, I would like to talk to Bryan Berg about his album Rockin’ Horse. I’m assuming that Berg is under the impression that his music is good. I disagree. Moreover, I feel as though the general population would tend to agree with me rather than with Berg.

Berg takes two styles of music that are more or less acknowledged to be bad and puts them together. Imagine a Brussels sprout and dirt sandwich, this CD is its musical equivalent. The dirt is the background of each song, the sort of nondescript, uninteresting and vague synthesized monotony that we have come to associate with ’80s music. Layered over this is twangy guitar. The guitar, like the Brussels sprouts, does not necessarily have to be bad. However, the guitar parts consist of a few common-sounding arrangements repeating themselves. They don’t just become boring to listen to – worse, the moment you hear them, you know they’re going to be boring. There’s no change or variation in each song as it progresses, nothing to keep you interested in what the song is going to turn into.

Aside from the fact that there’s no variation within each song, there’s little variation from song to song. The guitar parts and synthesized parts sound similar on each track. If you were listening to this CD while, say, folding your laundry or checking email, you might not even know that one song had ended and another had begun were it not for the fact that the lyrics had stopped, then started again, but were now on a different topic.

The lyrics themselves may be the worst part of the album. They are a combination of sophomoric and cheesy. For example, “All Revved Up,” the second track on the CD, runs as follows: “I’ve got beer in the refrigerator/I’m washing clothes in the agitator/I put the trash in the incinerator/I’m making coffee in the percolator/I’m taking care of business/now I’m all revved up.”

In the second verse, he continues, “I see my little double dater/flirting with the blond waiter/she’s such an instigator/guess it’s time to be the mediator/that girl’s all mine/and I’m all revved up.” The method of lyric-writing here seems to be this: put together all the words in the English language that end with “-ater,” regardless of whether they make sense in context, and use them to string together a trite story line.

While the other song lyrics don’t feature this extra-special rhyme scheme, they too are narrative, and they too tell maudlin stories. “Son of a Senator” tells the story of a boy who walks away from a car accident in which he was at fault and killed his girlfriend in the passenger seat because “daddy had a Rolodex/that spanned the lone star state. . .his blue blood Texas clan would sweep this mess away.”

Personally, my least favorite song is “Gifted Child”: “he’s a gifted child/he ain’t like all the rest/he’s a gifted child/puts the grown-ups to the test.”

I guess these stories don’t have to be trite, the way twangy guitar doesn’t have to sound bad. Anyone with enough talent can make something interesting out of anything. However, Berg does not have enough talent. He has hackneyed, corny song lyrics instead. He does have a decent singing voice; I have to give him that one concession. However, what he sings about destroys whatever redeeming power it might have had for his album.

My advice to you, as you may have guessed by now, is this: do not buy Bryan Berg’s album. Actually, seeing his name spelled out brings to mind another cheesy singer named Bryan, last name Adams. At this point in music history, a good rule of thumb is probably to never trust a singer who spells Bryan with a “y”. Now, I am going to go listen to Ben Folds’ “The Luckiest” repeatedly, because “Gifted Child” is stuck in my head, and it’s becoming painful.

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