or most of its existence, this album has been regarded as a “lost classic” of late ‘70s new wave. Courtesy of mentions by Hüsker Dü and Beck, plenty of people had heard of it, but only a handful had heard any of the music contained therein. Pressed on a strictly vanity basis, Gary Wilson sent the record to radio stations across the US, filling each package with personal notes and autographed photos. One glance at a photo of a scraggly-bearded Wilson, clad only in underwear and spools of magnetic tape, and the disinterest shown by station managers becomes quite understandable. A few copies did make their way into the hands of sympathetic souls, most notably at KAOS, the highly influential station at Evergreen State College. This glimmer of interest encouraged Wilson to move to the West Coast, in an attempt to jump-start his career, but by 1981, the dream had faded. The album and the artist slid into obscurity, forgotten by all but the few who stumbled across a copy in a dusty cellar.
Of course, this assured that You Think You Really Know Me would gain a luster in the eyes of vinyl fetishists and record geeks. It becomes all too easy to mythologize that which has been lost to the world, and albums of middling quality can appear near perfect through the dust-fogged lenses of the collector. Thankfully, the album’s re-release on CD provides an opportunity to look at it through fresh eyes, to judge it on the one criterion that should matter: the music.
One can barely read anything about Wilson without hearing that he sounded ahead of his time, that being the accepted critical shorthand for bizarre. It’s also a careless description; while certainly not of his time, it’s difficult to posit any sort of musical future in which this album would fit comfortably. That’s not to say that it is a timeless album, either, able to transcend generational boundaries with the leveling power of its songs. Existing in the same temporal limbo as cheap motels (the kind with a seedy lounge and a paunchy musical act), post-Rat Pack Vegas, and adolescence, it depicts a Happy Days suburb, illuminated by a luridly flickering red light bulb, with a soundtrack composed by Prince, but performed by Bill Murray.
The album is opened with waves of distortion washing over a placid keyboard motif, leading into the bright synth-funk of “You Keep On Looking.” These opening tracks provide a handy template for the album: upbeat pop songs placed next to disturbing noise experiments, sometimes within the space of one song. Above it all, Wilson spits out a stream-of-consciousness litany of lust and insecurity, stuttering and strutting like some deranged hybrid of Buddy Holly and James Brown. His vocals lend an unsettling feel to the proceedings, providing a voyeuristic insight into the fevered mind of a teenager, albeit one obsessed less with sex itself than the idea of sex. When paired with the driving grooves of “When You Walk Into My Dreams” and “Groovy Girls Make Love At The Beach”, the combination works: the pained singer and peppy backdrop pull the song in opposite directions, and this tension serves to keep the song afloat in a classic pop dynamic. At other times, the album borders on unlistenable. “Loneliness”, which combines moaning synthesizers with an anguished voice contemplating suicide, is so overwhelmingly dark, so entirely devoid of hope, that the initial listen, much less any repeat plays, becomes a daunting task.
The middle ground between these two extremes is found in “6.4 = Make Out”, referring to the correlation between alcohol and teenage sex (6.4 being the alcohol content of a local beer). A slow-burning groove where Wilson breathes lascivious come-ons, the track builds in tension, as it becomes increasingly doubtful that there is anyone else present. He boasts of Karen, the girl he has a “real crush” on, but ends whimpering that “she’s real...she’s so real...” It ends up as a bizarre blend of bravado and pleading, an awkward encapsulation of adolescence that’s the best moment on the album.
Despite a handful of interesting tracks, it’s difficult to recommend You Think You Really Know Me as an essential purchase. It’s a soundtrack to a David Lynch world, several steps removed from the surface of reality, and equally removed from what most consider pop music.
Reviewed by: Kurt Deschermeier
Reviewed on: 2003-09-01