An embarrassingly long time ago, I received an invitation from a band called the PDX Broadsides to share my thoughts on their latest album: Something’s Rotten.
This happened shortly before I attended a writing conference and then took a vacation. As I traveled, connecting to the Internet only briefly and infrequently, I regrettably let the PDX Broadsides and their invitation slip through the cracks.
Only a few days ago did I finally listen to Something’s Rotten in its entirety. It’s geeky; it’s folksy; it’s definitely an album worth reviewing—and by gosh, I’m going to review it. (Yeah, I know TMTF doesn’t review stuff anymore, but I’ll make an exception for today’s post.) I don’t know the first thing about music, but I am totally a geek, so I consider myself at least slightly qualified to review this album. Besides, my last music review didn’t cause The End of Civilization as We Know It, so what’s the harm in one more?
The PDX Broadsides are an acoustic-folk-geek trio. I wasn’t familiar with them prior to their invitation, and I haven’t the faintest idea why they invited me to share my opinion, but I’m glad they did.
Here we go, with due apologies for the late review.
Something’s Rotten is an acoustic guitar-driven album of geeky music, with a folksy vibe and plenty of vocal harmonies. This style reminded me repeatedly of Peter, Paul and Mary, whose music I adore. (I’m pretty sure I’m the only person of my generation who listens to Peter, Paul and Mary, so don’t feel bad if you haven’t heard of them.) As a geek who likes folk music, I really dig Something’s Rotten.
The album begins with “The Girl Who Couldn’t Even,” which I can only describe as the ballad of the stereotypical white American young woman. It matches her humorous overreactions to a melody that sounds like something straight out of the Old West. This intersection of tense music to a frivolous subject is pretty funny.
“Something’s Rotten: Hamlet’s Lament” is a musical soliloquy from Shakespeare’s most famous character—and let me tell you, it’s a heck of a lot more amusing than any of the soliloquies the Bard himself wrote for Hamlet. I enjoyed the offhanded way the song’s lyrics reference the events of the play.
“Catatonic” is the sad, slow lament of a fan whose mind goes blank every time she meets her favorite TV actor. I’m guessing this one was written from experience, because its authenticity strikes a chord with me. I’m easily overawed by brilliant creative people. Over the years, I’ve had the privilege of meeting a few of my own creative heroes, and I’ve gone a bit catatonic myself.
“Meant to Be” is a love song, but not a typical one. Love doesn’t just happen. Love takes work. This is a song about rebuilding love. There’s a tired determination in the refrain: “I’ve tried, I’ve tried, I’ve tried.”
By the time I reached “Astronaut’s Hymn,” I was already thinking of Peter, Paul and Mary, but this was the song that really clinched it. This is basically a sadder version of “Leaving on a Jet Plane,” except the singer is leaving on a spaceship instead of an airplane, and may possibly not come home. Heavy stuff.
“Far Away and Distant One” seemed at first like an unremarkable ballad of unrequited love, but after listening carefully to the lyrics, I can’t shake the conviction they must refer to a Dalek—the pepper shaker-shaped death machine from Doctor Who.
I could be mistaken, but I’m pretty sure lyrics like “you blew my world away” and “you hide behind your armor” are meant literally here, not figuratively. The repeated use of the word exterminated can’t be coincidence!
“The Ultimate Riot” tells, to a tune of almost sickening cheerfulness, the story of a riot started at a convention by a guest speaker who butchered his allusions to geeky media. This was my least favorite song on the album; I found the melody grating.
In spectacularly nerdy fashion, “Nopetopus” alludes to the Internet meme of an octopus fleeing the scene, and praises the example of that cautious creature.
We’ve all found ourselves in awkward social situations. The thought of fleeing like the Nopetopus, “flailing like Kermit the Frog,” is certainly a pleasant one. Equally pleasant are the vocal harmonies toward the end of the song, and its chorus of “nope nope nope.” Even the wary Nopetopus has nothing to fear from this song.
“Something’s Rotten: Ophelia’s Retort” is Ophelia’s response to Hamlet’s earlier lament. It lends a nice bit of continuity to the album, and turns Hamlet’s soliloquy into a duet. The lyrics continue to amuse: Hamlet, who early in Shakespeare’s play is confronted by the ghost of his late father, mourns, “Parental expectations never die.”
“I Ship It” is an overenthusiastic ode to shipping: the tendency of fans to support or wish for romantic relationships between fictional characters (or occasionally actual people). I regard shipping with wary amusement, and this song with the same.
“Eureka!” is a chipper ode to some of the greatest scientific discoveries in history. As with a number of the songs in this album, I’m amused to hear a folksy melody and arrangement matched with something nerdy. In this case, it’s SCIENCE!
Despite some humorous lyrics, “Smile!” makes a serious point. The song is a woman’s annoyed response to a stranger asking her to smile. As well-intentioned as it may seem, asking someone to look happy isn’t courteous. It may be irritating, creepy, or sexist, depending on the situation. A woman who looks unhappy probably isn’t waiting for a Prince Charming to offer flirtatious encouragements. She’s probably, y’know, genuinely unhappy. Her face is her own, and she has a right to whatever expression she chooses. Beneath the humor and upbeat melody of “Smile!” is a serious message, and it’s worth considering.
By contrast, the album’s final song isn’t even slightly serious. “Nathan Fillion (Please Take Off Your Pants)” is exactly what its title suggests: an earnest plea for actor Nathan Fillion to remove his pants and share his manly buttocks with the world. Fillion’s character loses his clothes in a memorable episode of Firefly, exposing his chiseled cheeks, and the writer of this song approves. Can I say this is my favorite song in the album? This is my favorite song in the album. It’s unbelievably catchy, and the absurdity of its premise is glorious. Think about it. Here, in our very universe, a song exists about Nathan Fillion’s bottom. Isn’t that bonkers? Besides, the thought of Mr. Fillion doing a little dance sans trousers is perfectly delightful.
As I conclude this music review, I realize my conclusion is exactly the same as in the last one: If you’re a geek, this album is absolutely worth checking out. If you’re not a geek, don’t feel guilty giving it a miss. It’s steeped in nerd culture, and its jokes and references are bound to go over the heads of listeners not in the know.
For those able to appreciate its geekiness, Something’s Rotten is a clever, well-written album of acoustic folk music. There’s a bit of bawdy humor, especially in that last track, and a few swearwords, but the album is fairly tame. Something’s Rotten is on the short side, but at ten dollars (or thirteen for a physical disc) for thirteen songs, it’s a good value.
Anyone interested in Something’s Rotten can listen to its tracks and/or purchase the album here.