Music » Critics' Picks

The Pernice Brothers with Waterloo

Friday, Aug. 10; Off Broadway


The fortunate few who find their CD players spinning The World Won't End -- the second misleadingly named album from the Pernice Brothers -- are bound to wonder why their favorite commercial-strewn radio station can't spare three minutes for one of these impeccably crafted tunes. One theory, which hasn't yet been corroborated by the Federal Reserve, is that the blame rests squarely on the sagging shoulders of Alan Greenspan, former Juilliard student and current patron saint of the bond market. The evidence seems clear. Back in 1991, social psychologist Harold Zullow released the results of a study that combed the lyrics of the Top 40 songs of each year from 1955 through 1989. He judged each hit according to its amount of "pessimistic ruminations" and concluded that the periods when lyrics held more depressive content correlated ominously with waning consumer optimism, spelling economic trouble one or two years down the road. We can only assume that when these findings reached the desk of Greenspan, an FCC decree was immediately set in motion to protect our commercial airwaves (and this New Economy) from the likes of Joe Pernice.

In terms of pessimistic ruminations, Pernice has consistently scored off the charts. Since his days leading the country-tinged outfit the Scud Mountain Boys, he's been sketching blighted songscapes littered with blasted lives and bad decisions, sung through a crumpled rasp weighed down by a somnolence that brands equally literate peers such as Mark Kozelek and Elliott Smith. Yet what distinguishes the Pernice Brothers' material is an almost Brill Building sensibility, a drive to counterbalance the dark pull with disarmingly bright melodies. Think Robert Lowell filtered through the iridescent lenses of Van Dyke Parks.

In spite of the misguided intentions of our Fed chairman, the Pernice Brothers have delivered another bittersweet assortment of dysthymic dollops, cloaked in strands of this season's most sumptuous pop. Live, as on record, they'll surely deliver a sound that's exactly right for the other side of summer.