Rob Crow

Living Well

(Temporary Residence; 2007)

By Conrad Amenta | 11 January 2007

The last ten years sure have been prolific for Rob Crow. Every year since 1996, in fact, his name's come attached to one outlet of indie rock or another. But it's the years since Pinback released their third and most successful album, Summer in Abaddon (2004), that seem to have exposed him to a more notable scrutiny and a correspondingly confused response. Crow followed up his mainstay band's breakthrough effort with a couple of shrugging, inside jokes: 2005's geek-metal homage Goblin Cock and 2006's Ladies collaboration with octopus-armed Hella drummer Zach Hill. Now 2007, the one-sheet for this year's iteration explains that Living Well, Crow's third solo album, is meant to signify a reprioritization. There's a kid in his life, family's at the forefront, and Crow is, paradoxically, releasing another album under yet another name about learning to keep things simple.

Ignoring that everyone else releases a number of "serious" albums and then gets back to basics with a lighthearted effort (something Crow seems to insist on the inverse of), Living Well has a valid enough premise. In place of Crow's aforementioned genre-hopping is an album soaked through with sincerity, pictures of family lining the CD booklet. As the title suggests, the music herein is undemanding, easy, melodic indie rock that (finally) doesn't try so hard to be funny. And in these direct senses the album succeeds at what it's attempting to convey. Crow isn't yet another new parent insisting that the rest of us understand the infinite mysteries and universal wonder of parenthood. He just sounds as if he's grown up a little.

The album has a restraint much closer to Pinback, and this is predictably both its greatest strength and most obvious weakness. Living Well is cleaner and more composed than the albums previously released under his own name, the predominantly instrumental snippets Lactose Adept (1996) and My Room is a Mess (2003). But, lacking the input and contributions of Armistead Smith (Pinback's other half) leaves the album achieving about half as much as it might have. One-two openers "Bam Bam" and "I Hate You, Rob Crow (Album Version)" are excellent, tight, mid-tempo indie pop of a Pinback variety, but they are also the best the album has to offer (and are only two-and-a-half minutes combined). "Taste,""Chucked," and "Burns" are painted with the same brush, and their individual merits are difficult to discern for their similarities. The circus-themed "Liefeld" and gallop of "No Sun" come closest to a departure, but for the most part Living Well revels in being unremarkable, likable and unapologetically uncomplicated.

It makes a lot more sense in the context of Crow's schizophrenic discography. Crow's ego and identity have been largely removed from Living Well's equation, and in its place are a number of undeviating, short, one-word-title indie rock songs that don't require an explanation or setup. Expecting anything more of it is demanding disappointment.