4. So Cow – Meaningless Friendly [IRL]
In interviews when he was in The Smiths, desperately concerned with creating an image, Morrissey used to talk about happy songs with sad lyrics. Most of what So Cow plays has a major key vibe, traced directly from antecedents in 90s indie rock, 80s and 70s power pop and even 60s garage rock. And most of So Cow sings has a sense of sadness, struggle or misunderstanding to it. There’s plenty of humour too, both that which comes from the aforemnetioned juxtaposition, like singing a break-up song with a singalong chorus about the billboard that overlooked it (Moon Geun Yeung), and that which is just patently ridiculous, like singing about the amount of Helens on your street (One Hundred Helens).
That’s the story of Meaningless Friendly. A collection of fun, catchy, garage pop with words that make you laugh a little and cry a little. Everything sounds a bit bigger and a bit better than it did before, to the extent that one negative review even claiming that it “reeks of over production”. It obviously doesn’t. But it’s more consistent, louder than anything that came before, and album that feels like it’s, as Cloud Nothings put it, made with an audience in mind. It’s as ambitious as you can get within the confines of still sounding like you’re just having fun.
The most obvious example of this is International Waters, which is the longest song on the album by about three and a half minutes. It’s an epic. It starts with a fisherman, “off out with my net”. Trying to feed his family. Things start going well, and soon get out of hand. Buys a van. Sells his fish in the marketplace. Gets a bigger boat. Tries to run for mayor. Van breaks down. Starts drinking a lot. It’s hard not to laugh at that moment, the turn, where the guy takes the illogical leap of running for mayor, and inevitably has his life fall apart in front of him. It’s apparently a treatment of the insane Korean drive for success. It’s absurd, hilarious, and sounds a bit like The Who if The Who were from Galway and into the music people who weren’t quite The Who made in their garages after listening to The Who.
The short songs (which is obviously every other song) are just as endearing, if a little less spellbinding. I’ve Got A Horrible Feeling is a Television Personalities-type song about not falling in love “in rural night clubs that smell of chips”. Random Girls has an attention deficient riff and no time for anything not devoted to the overall goal of being the catchiest song in the room. The Tony Keady Affair is about the time Galway hurler Tony Keady got suspended for a year, ruining Galway’s chances in the All-Ireland, while So Cow in short trousers fails to impress a girl with Gorbachev on TV in the background. Hell is in Korean, not gonna guess what it’s about.
The last album was a compilation of years of recording. It was effectively a greatest hits. It was going to be difficult to match on what will be effectively the “sophomore” record to a lot of people. But how could you doubt? It’s better than the self-titled, more together (obviously), but also more self-confident and more sonically mature. It’s got weird chord changes coming out of its ears and, as referenced previously, lyrical matter that it’s probably fair to call “off-beat” or even “quirky” (and at times “local colour”). It’s sadder, but it’s more fun. It really does feel like an artist hitting that purple patch where they couldn’t avoid putting out great music if they wanted to.
So Cow – Random Girls