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Sumday (V2)


That line about what you get when you play a country song backward -- your house, wife and dog returned to you -- was never very funny. (Besides, play a Toby Keith song backward and what you get back isn't a home, spouse or pet but rather the United Nations and a bill for back dues.) But Grandaddy frontman Jason Lytle needs you to play Grandaddy's Sumday (not a country record but far from urban) backward, programming it from last song to first.

For one thing, album closer "The Final Push to the Sum" has the stately crunch of Radiohead's OK Computer kickoff "Airbag," a tension too electric to resolve itself, let alone the eleven songs preceding it. But the song's question -- What have I become? -- is answered in Sumday's first track and lead single, "Now It's On": I wouldn't trade my place. Lytle turns on a light and shrugs off the past, then steps right back inside his gloomy home for the remainder of the album. (Not coincidentally, perhaps, Sumday was recorded entirely at Lytle's house.) Give the guy a break -- listen to "Now It's On" last.

The group says Sumday isn't a concept album, at least no more so than its previous disc, The Sophtware Slump. Fair enough. But Grandaddy might as well be a concept band. Titling one of Sumday's few toe tappers "I'm OK With My Decay" hints that the guys have given some thought to entropy; by the time the album (in its original order) gets through with the tentatively happy survivor of "Now It's On," optimism is impossible. Haikulike, minimally arranged treatises on alcoholism, dead-end jobs and the willful amnesia of romantic loss betray the cruel streak of a band fascinated with the day after a life-affirming epiphany, when despair comes flooding back.

Only the sludgy middle third of the album fails to benefit from the Memento treatment. Sumday's best song, the aching "Saddest Vacant Lot in the World," gains nothing from its proximity to the weakest cut here, "Yeah Is What We Had," regardless of whether it comes before or after. With its melancholy harmonies and simple piano line, "Saddest" suggests the Beach Boys slipping into Neil Young's "See the Sky About to Rain." But "Yeah" is more like the Alan Parsons Project toasting a slice of Bread.

The similarity between Lytle's weightless tenor and Flaming Lips singer Wayne Coyne's man-who-fell-to-earth wail is routinely noted in coverage of the newer band, though Lytle's voice is less steady and less confident than Coyne's. But whereas the Lips are proud to come from a moon made of cheese, Lytle is most bashful at the mic when his lyrics are fantastic. Still, count Grandaddy with the Lips as a band born to say "Take me to your leader" and Sumday as strong coercion to comply.

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