Micah Schnabel — I’m Dead, Serious. Out now.
In case you’re unfamiliar with my feelings about Micah Schnabel and his songwriting, you might want to go spend some time with the thousand words I spent on his first solo record, When The Stage Lights Go Dim, or the second thousand I spent on Two Cow Garage’s 2010 release Sweet Saint Me.
I thought about just turning on the camera on patti lee, my iMac, and filming a ten minute video of me waving my hands like an idiot, in lieu of this review, but while that might have conveyed how desperately I adore it, it wouldn’t have necessarily conveyed how fucking brilliant Micah is on this one, every single lyric and every single musical choice. I’ve always compared Micah to Brian Fallon of the Gaslight Anthem, because they’re both terribly clever songwriters, sometimes too smart for their own goods, and definitively prone to dropping as many references as possible in their songwriting. It’s one of the few complaints I’ve repeatedly heard about Gaslight’s 2008 masterpiece The ’59 Sound, that it’s too clever, too much wearing of influences on a sleeve, but I love it for that, because Brian Fallon does it flawlessly. Brian Fallon can get away with that.
So can Micah, maybe even moreso than Brian can.
It starts with album opener “Choir Boys”, laced with song-title references to Two Cow’s Columbus compatriots Ghost Shirt (everyone stop reading this for a minute and go watch this video of “Southern Girl” from Couch By Couchwest last year, ugh, that fucking song), and they’re dropped throughout the record — pretty girls make graves and boys like me get brave in “Burning In Water, Drowning In Flame”, it’s alright, Mama, I’m only bleeding in “Th Heavy things”. They’re as organic as everything else about Micah’s songwriting, which is one of the reasons he’s my favorite songwriter working today: he has an ear for the most honest parts of fucked-up human existence, the parts where you fall in love and get your heart kicked in and spend a lot of time being a wallowing pit of regret and despair and still loving the person who kicked your heart in.
Thanks to some concerted touring by Micah last fall, I had heard most of these tracks before, but they still surprised me with their power, and with the ability that Micah has to stare death, the struggle of depression, the moments when you just don’t feel like you can fight anymore, right in the face. This is a broken-hearted album, and it even has a love song on it — more on that in a minute — but it’s also, between the title track and the gorgeous, heartwrenching “Th Heavy Things”, an album about suicide and what it’s like to face it down. “Th Heavy Things” is probably the best track on I’m Dead, Serious, for the weighted way in which it handles the death of a friend, and the desire most depressives struggle with personally, to put that metaphorical gun in your mouth.
It also has one of my favorite choruses from anything that Micah’s ever written:
I just want to write one perfect line
Something we all can hide behind
One for the lovers, one for the losers, one for the girls
I love this chorus, because I think that Micah’s done this time and time again, he’s got plenty of perfect lines, but that he writes this again, that plea to make something perfect, it’s something we all feel — that desire to keep making that keeps us afloat. (Micah’s most perfect line, by the way, is the opening couplet to Two Cow Garage’s “Lydia”: I want to be in love like an old soul song/I want to feel like the second verse of Let’s Get It On. Those lines are so perfect they make me feel sick sometimes.)
For me, the power in Micah’s writing is lyrics like that chorus, lyrics that are obviously deeply personal but have a sharp eye on the nature of humanity at large. They’re all over this record, of course, because broken hearts are universal, but Micah has this amazing ability to take something we’ve all felt and turn it more clever and more sad and more true. Take “Ex’s and Oh’s”, for example: nostalgia has a funny way of forgetting/the awful things we used to say and do. Or the chorus of “Burning In Water, Drowning In Flame”: and oh, Juliet, are you dreaming?/sleep tight, go to hell. Or the finished line of “Zen & The Art Of”: zen and the art of fucking up your life. Have we not all been there? We have.
I think that my favorite track, though, is “Sid And Nancy”, by Micah’s own admission the only love song he’s ever written — and it’s called Sid And Nancy, you guys. That’s why Micah is my favorite, because no one else in the world would write a love song — and with Micah’s whiskey-scratch voice and the tinny piano melody and the ache of describing a relationship like some Leonard Cohen song, it is a love song — and call it “Sid And Nancy”. Because, man, even good love can be sort of fucked up, and we all know it, Micah just lays it out there. It’s a beautiful song. It’s sad. It’s true. It’s a love song, and I love it.
And if all those words haven’t sold you yet, y’all know I’m a sucker for a clever slant rhyme, and Micah knocks one out of the park on ‘I’m Dead, Serious’, pairing ‘songs’ with ‘Kings of Leon’, and that’s it, done, over, finished. Micah Schnabel is a motherfucking genius. And this is the only album in my iTunes — 25K tracks, the only one — that has all five star songs. 11 tracks, every single one of them is worth 5 stars to me. Every one. That’s loving a record.