Around and Around We Go: Jon Auer’s Simple Pop Revival – 2001
By Kurt Hernon, bangSheet, 2001
I remember sitting with Jon Auer in a swank sandwich joint. It was the Cleveland stop of the Posies we’re-not-still-a-band-but-we-have-a-lot-left-to-do-sort-of acoustic tour. Jon was eating, and I was interrupting his eating with uninspired insipid banter. Hardly the ideal interview, but then, I don’t know how to conduct a “proper” interview, and Jon who was pretty easy going (it seemed as though he probably has no “ideal” vision of an interview either). We talked with the uneasiness that complete fucking strangers tend to wade through about family, relationships, and, of course, music. Not really Jon’s music, or the Posies stuff, but stuff we liked, the way music freaks do. “I can’t believe so many people just seem to dismiss the Psychedelic Furs anymore, what a fantastic fucking band!” “Joan Jett! God, I fucking love her stuff so much.” That sort of strangeness. It was one of the better talks I’ve ever had with a musician; easy going, comfortable, and about music.
So it probably shouldn’t be a surprise to me that when Auer finally got around to releasing a stateside (other work of Auer’s has been circulating Europe) solo project it would be a staggeringly good and perpetually entertaining reworking of six cover tunes and one instrumental number; hence the title 6 ½. Shouldn’t be a surprise, but it is. In fact, it’s downright flabbergasting. It’s…it’s…it’s a damn refreshing fucking record. Maybe my gushing is really just a reaction to, and an indictment of, songwriting itself these days. That Auer successfully turns down several varied alleyways by covering Ween’s “Baby Bitch” with bent sympathy, Swervedriver’s “These Times” – as though Auer himself had lived it himself – the glorious “Green Eyes” with the breaking reverence that Grant Hart’s songs certainly deserve, is amazing itself. Or is it? Probably not, because something like this – a covers record – just doesn’t work if the cat presenting the cuts can’t get under the skin of the tunes and become them. If Auer doesn’t take these songs and imbue them with real earnest affection for them (not a simple hipster’s “Hey, listen to me! Ain’t I cool? Listen to these badass covers I’m doing” – we’ve all heard that sort of revivalism before, and it’s shoddy and it sucks) they’d just be boring rehash of good tunes done competently. But Auer is either too smart or way too good for such nonsense (I’ll say both). His spot on grasp at the Furs “Love My Way” is an impressive aural feat…treat. When he weaves his way through a creeping “Beautiful Stranger” you can be damn sure he has the same sort of love/don’t-know-what-to-make-of-her-enough-to-hate-her groove on Madonna as the rest of us. “To know you / is to love you” the song says, but who knows Madonna? So who can love her? Unless, of course, you go microbe and get into her, which Auer is perhaps doing when he works out his own arrangement of this Lady’s tune. Face it, Madonna’s infiltrated every pop life out there, and I’ll be damned if Auer doesn’t bring that into perspective here.
So you slap a few songs some people have heard before onto a disc and toss it into the ring. Sounds fucking simple don’t it? Well you try it asshole. It may be the hardest goddamn thing to pull off. It’s certainly a miserable fucking proposition at best and a dicey artistic gamble at worst. But Auer could care less because he actually likes pop music, he’s a fan as well as a writer/singer and ex-Posie (fuck that last has got to just wear man, it’s got to just wear). You just hear it in these songs, and 6 ½ is a gamble that scores for Auer in spades. His voice never more assured, his arrangements near flawless, the choice of tunes is swell, and Auer doesn’t push things too far or wind up too reverential. He makes a set of other peoples songs sound distinctly his and in the process makes one of the more sturdy pop records in recent memory. Auer makes it sound so goddamn easy here, and so goddamn good, that you realize how textured and sturdy the pop idiom can still be, but rarely is anymore.