REVIEW: Owen: No Good for No One
Owen: No Good for No One [Polyvinyl, 2002] (mp3s)
Three words? Dashboard it ain't.
I know a guy whose music collection consists entirely of emo. He refuses to listen to anything else, and is generally disdainful of anyone who suggests his tastes may be a wee bit narrow. It all wouldn't be that bad, if it weren't for the fact that he tries to inflict his taste on everyone else, recommending bands to people even when his opinon hasn't been asked for, and nagging them until they download said band. Invariably, the band tends to be awful, the most generic emo you could possibly imagine. I mention all this as a precursor to saying the guy is a fan of Owen. Thus, when I saw I had to review No Good For No One Now I feared the worst.
Thankfully, such fears were generally unfounded. Make no mistake--Owen are definitely emo, in the Dashboard Confessional sense of the word. It has the guy (in this case, Mike Kinsella of Owls/Cap'n Jazz/Joan of Arc fame), virtually alone with his guitar, singing about the usual topics (girls, and lack thereof). And yet, somehow, No Good For No One Now amounts to a lot more than the poppy stylings of Mr. Carraba and his merry band of session musicians.
Perhaps it's because Kinsella's lyrics are darker and more bitter than most music this side of Thom Yorke. Nearly every song here feels like looking in on the private diary of someone filled with self-loathing and disgust. In "Nobody's Nothing": "I know that you're still dealing with her leaving / It's a shame, but you've only yourself to blame / I know you're bleeding internally and you're in pain / but you've only yourself to blame." In "Everyone Feels Like You": "In time you'll find that needing things only kills you slowly." In "Poor Souls": "I breathe in deep and I swear to God I'll die if I go home alone tonight."
And so it continues throughout No Good For No One Now. It would all be depressing as hell if it weren't for how it comes across: rather than being some heartfelt, nasal yelp, Kinsella has a voice that sounds like he just woke up, as if he's groggily recounting a dream he just had rather than talking about how desperately he needs someone. Given just a superficial listen, it would almost sound soothing. Such a feeling is reinforced by the music, which, for the most part, is just Kinsella and his guitar. It gently rolls along, never coming to the fore; even when extra instruments are added, they're barely noticeable, furthering the feeling that No Good For No One Now is, essentially, a peek into the world of a guy pouring out his feelings over his acoustic guitar.
Which, I suppose, means that this is the very definition of what emo was, and still is, supposed to be. The word has, for many people, gained a very negative connotation to it, perhaps reinforced by the generally low quality of too many of the bands. In No Good For No One Now, Mike Kinsella offers a sad, beautiful counterargument.