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Grant Lee Phillips | Mobilize | review | alternative | rock | Lollipop
by Jamie Kiffel
Listening to Grant-Lee Phillips is like pawing through a stranger's private effects. There's the thrill of discovering someone else's precious papers, jewelry from old lovers, and tickets stubs from long ago vacations. But most exciting is the discovery that exploring someone else's mind slowly, subtly and deeply vibrates sympathetic chords in your own.
As frontman for Grant-Lee Buffalo, Phillips opened for R.E.M., Smashing Pumpkins and even Pearl Jam. It's obvious: Phillips has the same incredible ability to stir up the soul as they did. However, Billy Corgan experimented with phrases until he found ones that evoked feeling without making literal sense, and Stipe professed to not even remembering his own lyrics. Literary fans would sap veins in exchange for lyric explanations - but admitted the music "wouldn't be the same" if they had them. Phillips finally satisfies that dream of understandable poetry paired with music that wrecks the soul to satisfaction.
The album starts like a mix of The Beatles, R.E.M., Roger Waters, and Ziggy Stardust: Gently sighing space noises, sweetly pleasing tenor and modern poetry about going "off to see America" in a New York taxicab. Phillips' delivery is studied and clean as the album ranges from sounding like A-Ha (as on "Humankind," a song about the inevitability of being drawn into the cruelty of our culture) to Squeeze ("Beautiful Dreamers," a storytelling romance) to U2 ("We All Get a Taste" could have been lifted off Achtung Baby). "Like a Lover" is a stunning whisper of a song that takes a minimalist, muffled riff, pairs it with soft reflections on a lost lover, and lonesomely expresses how it feels to miss even the pain she caused. "Mobilize," the title song, is a brilliant commentary on war, mocking "fighting the good fight" with an absurdly manly chorus of "whoa whoa!"s marching over spacy, Hawaiian-tribal noises. The entire album is this self-aware and completely formed, making it as ripe for an eviscerating analysis as for a plainly satisfying listen.
This is astonishing alchemy. Phillips has delivered fully conceptualized art that still grasps the guts, proving that raw isn't the only way to serve up feelings you can really taste.
(One Camp St. Cambridge, MA 02140)