Thursday, August 13, 2009

484. Branded Man- songs of an unhappy camper.

Album: Branded Man.

Artist: Merle Haggard.

Year: 1967.



1. Branded Man
2. Loneliness Is Eating Me Alive
3. Don't Get Married
4. Somewhere Between
5. You Don't Have Very Far to Go
6. Gone Crazy
7. I Threw Away the Rose
8. My Hands Are Tied
9. Some of Us Never Learn
10. Long Black Limousine
11. Go Home
12. I Made the Prison Band

A few albums back I made lots of fun of the Smashing Pumpkins. I commented on the fact that Melon Collie and the Infinite Sadness was a two hour slab of songs that sounded pretty much the same and addressed the same theme. It was all basically depression at the same tempo. I’ve read lots of comments on the internet from people asking why teenagers need to listen to repetitive music about depressing themes. It’s a common protest but one you could level squarely at Branded Man by Merle Haggard.

The knowledge that despair sells more records than joy isn’t something that the Pumpkins realized one afternoon and no one had thought of before. The blues is all about feeling low and as I’ve recently discovered, a lot of country music is basically just moping with a guitar. Branded man contains 12 songs only one of which addresses a happy topic. All the rest are mournful laments about being in prison or losing a girl or just generally feeling lower than a muleskinner’s grits.

So why is it okay for Merle and not for the Pumpkins? Why do we knock bands who set out to depress teenagers and give doleful adults a free ride? Is it because we think teenagers don’t have anything worth getting upset about? Surely you can’t really have the blues when you’re 16, at most you could be suffering from a mild case of the aquas.

What’s really hypocritical about this is that Merle Haggard’s problems are largely of his own devising. He laments the fact that a girl might not wait for him while he’s in prison for armed robbery. Lots of his songs talk about the hardships of jail which he should know all about since Haggard lead a life of crime and served several sentences, one lasting three years. But nobody writes reviews at amazon telling Merle to get over himself and stop writing depressing music: “If you didn’t want the blues maybe you should have thought twice before you became a public menace you thug! Get over yourself jailbird!” You don’t read those comments on the internet, yet the Pumpkins, writing music for a generation who haven’t done much wrong and can’t really do much about what’s troubling them, are the target of vitriol and scorn. Middle-aged Middle America loves a convicted felon but hates the soundtrack to law-abiding teenagers with lots of homework and acne. Does that make sense to anyone out there?

While I’m on the subject of injustice- why is it that Merle Haggard is represented on this list by one album but Lorretta Lynn gets a best-of in the list? My big disappointment while listening to this album was that none of the Haggard songs I’d heard (Okie from Muskogie, Sing me back home and Mama Tried) were on this. If they’d included a best of he could have had the big hits from Branded man along with his other material.

Branded Man is actually as painful to listen to as Melon Collie only thankfully much shorter. It’s all the same tempo with lots of “woe is me” stuff. Haggard has a nice voice but his backing singers are cheesy as hell and deserve to be locked up. All the country music clich├ęs are there: pedal steel guitars, rimshot beats, honky-tonk sounding pianos, backing vocals supplied by three women who you just know are wearing identical dresses, and songs about roses. What is it with country music and roses? Has anyone written a thesis about C and W and it’s obsession with that particular flower? Nobody ever sings about jonquils. I’ve got no idea what a jonquil looks like but I do know it’s an undervalued flower in the lexicon of country music. Loretta Lynn had me rethinking country music but this just reaffirms everything I’ve always thought I hated about C&W as a genre. It’s agonizing stuff.

Highlight: The final track (I made the Prison band) at last has a tempo variation but it’s too little too late.
Lowlight: The clowns who provide backing vocals.

Influenced by:
Other inmates
Influenced: Garth Brooks and others like him.

Favourite Amazon customer review quote: “…the previous reviewer is a f***ing moron, and has no concept of good music”

-weird since the only other review on the site gave the exact same rating and agreed with pretty much everything you said.

So is the Hag your bag or should they have left him locked up? Let me know below.

1 comment:

  1. An interesting point raised about themes in music. Do bands depress teenagers, or do they give already depressed teenagers an avenue of exploration for the emotions? Why is it not OK for rock bands to have depressing lirics? It is very hypocritical.