Own It or Disown It: #249: Our Lady Peace, Clumsy

OwnItorDisownIt

The Canadian alt-rock band's breakout album turned twenty years old this week. Does it hold up?

I have the worst theory about reincarnation and consciousness ever. I posit that we’re all just the same spirit/angel/force/whatever that is experiencing one life at a time, unbound by pesky things like space and time. When you pass, for instance, there’s a chance the next consciousness you embody will be an 80s kid who will grow to have views and opinions diametrically opposed to the ones you carry. It is a theory without evidence that offers no solace, meaning, or perspective, but I’m amused by the idea due to its rank absurdity, so I’m loath to dismiss it. If there is a God, She has a sense of humor and would be the sort of entity to put us through this sort of cycle.

I bring this up because I’m hoping the next experience I have comes in the form of someone born in 1979 into upper middle class life in the United States of America. Let’s face it, Generation X, you have it easier than Millennials, and I’d like to have been old enough to take such comfort for granted. Political and societal circles in the US were comforting things, at least compared to the present day, and there was no immediate crisis or cause for the youth to react to. Alternative rock grew out of the identity crisis this brought—sure, it was nice that there was no Vietnam to worry about, but youth need something to react to, and the lack of something lead to a widespread embrace of misery. Alt-rock may not have been the most creative outlet to embrace, but it was the easiest for many youth.

Clumsy, the second album by Canadian alt-rockers Our Lady Peace, is an album very much not just of its time but its year. Backstreet Boys and Big Willie Style were solid indicators of how big pop was at the time, but youth who wanted rock with an edge to it were stuck with variations of the same song about how disaffected from society they are. “Superman’s Dead” is basically the same song as “Semi-Charmed Life” and “Everything to Everyone” and “Everlong”, at least in terms of capturing an emotional state. Heck, “Superman’s Dead” shares the same emotional tones as every other song on Clumsy. Oh, sure, each song is “about” different things and not every song shares the same structure, but, again, this is music about how mom just doesn’t understand that you need to be the one to figure out what’s wrong with you, not her.

Good thing Clumsy has hooks. For as much as I think the emotional tones of this album are stunted and predictable, the best songs here keep moving around and introducing elements to keep things going. I’d argue the album reaches its zenith two tracks in with “Automatic Flowers”, whose sneering nature should’ve made it a bigger hit than it was. Lead singer Raine Maida uses his nasal falsetto more as a weapon than a musical instrument and helps the material earn its edge. It is all very well and good until Our Lady Peace decide to slow the tempo down, at which point things start to suck. “Carnival” works out well, I guess, but “4am” is boring and dull and has nothing going for it and why the fuck does this shit exist? If Clumsy is a roller coaster, its low tempo numbers are where its riders have to get out and push the cart up the next hill.

Still, there’s enough here that rocks well enough to earn a soft recommendation. It is no classic or even all that great, but it is good and scratches an itch that most alt-rock albums can’t reach. The Internet tells me this album has made it onto lists canonizing great Canadian albums, which I find befuddling but fine. Eh, maybe I’ll make sense of it the next time around.

VERDICT: OWN

1997 was an eventful year for music, to say the least. I have the feeling I'll be covering a good number of albums turning twenty this year.

Read past editions of Own It or Disown It.