Jacket Full of Danger
dam Green grew up as the guy in the Moldy Peaches yelping about crack; that was boring, but people like novelty songs about crack—go figure. Then he turned into the guy scribbling in his notebook at the coed party; you thought he was writing poetry, but he was writing about how you were going home to write poetry—that was hilarious, and it made people nervous and frustrated because people are stupid. He takes potshots at moneyed literary jerks and art history girls because that’s what he is and what he loves. But while on last year’s excellent Gemstones, Green sounded like a sharp, giggly asshole chasing pussy at the pathetic carnival of young white liberals—for poetic research, of course—Jacket Full of Danger is an unfocused album that lets his own kitschy gags grab him by the ankles.
Green’s one of the most morally irritating (read: engaged, frustrating, corruptive) songwiters around, but nobody really cares, because history has had plenty of hateful Jewish comedians already. He isn’t as clever or obtuse as Bob Dylan or Leonard Cohen, but he’d scoff at their mannish self-importance anyway. Plus, to get the Dylan-as-comedian tack, you have to—to paraphrase my friend Anthony—engage in the irony of boomers mistaking all his punch lines for lyrical pearls, whereas Green’s empathy/disgust axis rests on comparisons as basic as calling an aborted fetus a “red brick” or having the guts to tell a girl something as honest as “Those guys stay up on the party line / They make you cry in every way that you can / Those guys have money for you anytime, but you never make out with them.”
It’s not that Green has never been emotionally resonant; the point is that, if you’re of the mind that everyday life is like a jig over a rainbow of shit and garbage, your humor never comes without tragedy. He took a hipster’s road to fascination with Vegas decay, boozy wash-ups, and Disgusto America, but he also grew real sympathy. It’s why the most soaring moments in his hokey lounge-folk routines are always the most uncomfortable and moving; he’s the only contemporary songwriter spoiled and heartless enough to write a dance song about crack addiction. But now, it’s Green who bleats “I like drugs,” and he sounds bored enough to be telling the truth.
The string arrangements and recording of Jacket Full of Danger sound more expensive than anything on Gemstones, too. One of the great things about that album is that while it channeled the black-hearted croon & Disney orchestra combo of Scott Walker or Jacques Brel, it passed it all through technical indifference and cheap equipment—Green plucked harder at his idols than anyone else. And even though he manages to eke out “Hollywood Bowl,” a snappy tune about the fact that everyone hates him—and one that compares his wilting ambitions to his father dying—it sounds more like he’s hiding under his music than commanding it.
Though Jacket shows he can be as weak as some of his characters, Green’s done enough intelligent damage to the world around him that there’s no reason to write him off. Sure, the only people that really care about Adam Green, besides a couple of Stylus writers, are German or in the Strokes. The German fame is funny, of course; they probably love him because he seems quintessentially American—and he is. Represent us, Adam Green, be a patriot and show the world what colorful people we are; lift the folds of fat in our overgrown stomach and harvest the sweat—that’s where we hide the cock jokes and abortion stories anyway.