Boise's best, Built to Spill, return to make good on the promise of
their last full-length outing, Perfect From Now On. Chopping down
the extended, ragged guitar arcs of that album, bandleader Doug Martsch
has composed here an elaborately beautiful pop ode to former President
Richard M. Nixon's secretary, Rosemary Woods.
Woods, of course, was Nixon's Bettie Currie, forever linked to the whole
Watergate scandal by her employer and by an 18 1/2-minute gap found on
one of the famed Oval Office tapes that she administered. The Rosa Parks
of stonewalling presidential secretaries, Woods nonetheless makes for an
odd muse. However, resonances with Monicagate transform Keep It Like
a Secret from a seemingly direct statement on the vagaries of
love-Martsch's usual stock-in-trade to a sweeping indictment of
democracy in late 20th-century America.
With able musical assistance from bassist Brett Nelson and drummer Scott
Plouf -- the first stable lineup for the band -- Built to Spill redefine
the power-trio sound, generating in the process the sonic equivalent of
Sen. Trent Lott's hair: hard, shiny, polished.
Lyrically, Martsch is all over the map. The opener, "The Plan," is told
in Nixon's voice and lifts some lines directly from conversations he had
with chief of staff H.R. Haldeman. It is a paranoid yet oddly moving
account of a man on the edge. "Center of the Universe" finds Woods
lamenting her relative position in the ongoing investigation -- "I so
miss the time I served up bagels and lox/ for Katharine Graham and
Archibald Cox." "Sidewalk" harkens back to the band's sound on the
chirpy "There's Nothing Wrong with Love"; the ballad imagines
Woods fantasizing about what her life would have been like had she
instead followed her childhood dream to become an American Basketball Association (the defunct "outlaw" league from the seventies) cheerleader.
In "You Were Right," the band turns out a rocking performance that
speaks to Martsch's stated fondness for Up label stablemates Modest
Mouse. It finds Woods talking with her mother on a pay phone outside her
apartment, relating how it all went wrong. As Martsch's overdubbed
guitars come crashing down, she realizes how cynical and callow the
Washington establishment had become: "You were right/ about the
Kennedys/ you were right/ about the bennies."
Though I could've done without the winking, 18 1/2-minute gap before the
last, "bonus" cut, it more than makes up for the wait. Closing things
out in rousing fashion, BtS cover the Paranoids' "I Wonder, Wanda?"
(This appeared earlier on a Potatoe compilation, A Messed Up Vote Is
The ideal Passover present for Monica Lewinsky, and the perfect
soundtrack for the impeachment process.