Oct. 24, 2012 - Issue #888: Winter Guide 2012
Jason Collett: Torch songs
Jason Collett skips the stigma of political songwriting on Reckon
About halfway through Jason Collett's liner notes for Reckon, he writes, "It seems politics are unavoidable if you choose to write about or engage with the world in front of you. I didn't set out to make a record with these overtones, but neither did I try to stop it. I just did my best to avoid the shrill rhetoric that makes most political songwriting unlistenable."
There's a slight pensiveness to that paragraph: though the singer-songwriter and longtime Broken Social Scene member has always kept his pen sharply trained on the realities of the world, with Reckon, Collett also seems acutely aware of the stigma of having made what's undeniably a "political" album. Lyrically, it takes an unflinching look at the damage done by America's 2008 economic crisis, which Collett's seen firsthand during his regular south-of-the-border touring: "parts of small cities just shutting down," he puts it at one point, over the phone from his home in Toronto. But, he's also quick to point out that the album's central focus came about organically.
"It just sort of crept in," he begins. "At some point I realized, 'Well, I've got a lot of songs commenting on the current economic crisis.' And then I had to figure out how best to go about making an album with that undercurrent, so allowing a certain amout of levity with some of the more dance-able numbers. Its genesis was not any idea other than just being present in the moment, I suppose.
"One could say it's a political record, and I'm comfortable enough saying that," Collett continues. "But you could also just say, in very practical terms, it's just of the times. And it is kind of matter of fact that way, and that's how I allowed it to be: without any grand rhetoric. It's pretty plainspoken in its narratives—of loss, essentially. If it's to be distilled at all, the running thread is loss. That's not just about lost job and lost homes, but it's also about the loss of any illusion that our political and financial institutions know what the fuck they're doing."
Regardless of any political bent, Reckon's songs carry their burdens like a torch to rally behind: the music acts as a lifting counterpoint to heavier lyrics, spanning the guitar-led rollick of "Black Diamond Girl," the string sweeps of opener "Pacific Blue," and bass-led grooves of "I Wanna Rob a Bank." These are songs you could move to.
To Collett, the weaknesses of outright polticial songwriting seems to be when it simply recounts its agenda set to tune. The finer political songwriters out there—he names Bob Dylan and the Boss in that category—worry more about narrative than rhetoric.
"There's a whole meta-narrative to the Springsteen trajectory," he says. "You can follow his characters from being young and innocent and believing in the dream, to that dream failing them, to, on his last record, being polticized by it.
"I think he's kind of a brilliant writer that way," he continues. "He tells stories. They're not protest songs as we sort of assume political songs are. I think, bottom line is, if you're gonna write with a message, you have to be shrewd enough not to turn people off. Ultimately, you're trying to communicate, so that's the challenge. And ultimately they have to have great grooves and great melodies, y'know, ... [or] you're serving no purpose other than your own."
Sat, Oct 27, 2012 (7 pm)
Royal Alberta Museum
Theatre, sold out
Vue respects your privacy. We will not forward your personal information to any other organization except as required by law, and will use your e-mail address only to respond to your comments. We reserve the right to edit and remove comments for length, clarity and/or if they are illegal or inappropriate. Your email address is never shown to visitors to vueweekly.com. Read the whole policy at: http://vueweekly.com/privacy