Thelonious Monster: California Clam Chowder

Thelonious Monster

California Clam Chowder


Unlike mere trendy mopers, genuinely depressive musicians are often reluctant to fuck with their darkest feelings, and the exceptions often have death certificates that prove the rule. Yet longtime L.A. scenester Bob Forrest has never stopped confessing how stupidly he wallows in the self-pity he has never stopped trying to escape. His band, Thelonious Monster, started out as a typical (if terrific) gaggle of late-'80s indie-rock wise-asses, but by the time of their 1992 swan song, Beautiful Mess, the fun was draining from Forrest's sprees, as the increasing ache in his whine attested. He poked his head from the mire in 1999 with a new band, the Bicycle Thief, to record a desperate album-length attempt at reassurance. On that album's closing track, a breakfasting addict bemoans his dishwashing job while each spoonful of cereal shatters another drug-weakened tooth.

His life and his band both provisionally back together, Forrest names each of his 15 new songs for the artist who supposedly inspired it (musically, lyrically, maybe just spiritually). The conceit allows him to vent the accumulated bitterness of a veteran hanger-on--"The Joy Division Song" condemns poseurs with such quaint righteousness, you'll be super-pissed at Haircut 100 all over again--while aiding his elbow-deep plunge into a sentimentality he has never exactly shied away from. Maybe "The Beck Song" ("You're just a haircut and some tennis shoes") is a cheap shot (not necessarily at B. Hanson), but "The Oasis Song" ("If you agree that things are not/the way they could be or the way they should be or the way you want them to be/Let's get together and change the world") captures its subject's ham-fisted uplift with a wink that's never snidely parodic--as the heroine's suicide on "The Big Star Song" makes clear, there's too much at stake.

And so Forrest puts his all into "The Bob Dylan Song," a loser's anthem for the kids (clichéd harmonica and butterfly metaphor included) that nearly echoes Jonathan Richman's promise that even the most depressed teen can someday grow "Dignified and Old." Except that Forrest can only provide the latter half of that guarantee.