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August 14, 1980 - Image 6

Resource type:
Michigan Daily, 1980-08-14

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Page 6-Thursday, August 14, 1980-The Michigan Daily
Hiatt and Monsters have values


John Hiatt demands attention. He
looks around himself and sees a
miasma of bloated egomanicas,
manipulative misanthropes, and
Chloroxed clones bleached of all direc-
tion, purpose, initiative, and,
distinguishing characteristics.
He sees Two Bit Monsters, the title of
his fourth album. Even worse, the mon-
sters are content, blind in their self-
deception, secure in their misperceived
status quo, and willing both to dodge
reality and ignore the dangers of
legitimizing illusion.
HIATT WANTS THEIR attention, no
small order since no one knows who he
is. Abandoning the subtle approach
altogether, "Two Bit Monsters" is a
series of decimating kicks to the
apathetic ass that brazenly rip away
the comfort of pretense to bare the*
uglier realities.
Caustic wit and reedy voice honed.
razor sharp, Hiatt routinedly lampoons
sexual miscreants such as the
adulterous wife in "Back to Normal,"
who decides to heighten her marital
bliss therapeutically-with the good
qoctor, of course. Bump-and-grind
rhythm underscores the lyrices as Hiatt
slyly asserts that evil will win out:
"Who's that in the shadows on the
wall?/ Who's that with the camera in
the hall?/ You've got the doctor's or-
ders/ And I got all the pictures I need."
With that, Hiatt manically concludes
"I'm back to normal now," and leaves

the subject dangling in the breeze.-
Unlike the music of most of today's
talented singers (Elvis Costello comes
to mind), the world according to Hiatt
actually has values. People have
responsibilities, especially, though not
entirely, in their relationships with
each other.
"DOWN IN FRONT" finds Hiatt
disgustedly repudiating the all-too-
familiar scenari6 of stud-farm boy
meets reluctant girl, tries to plow her
fields, succeeds when she is finally
either honest enough to admit what she
wants or too weak to defend her values:
"No one knows better/ As he takes off
your sweater/ Just what he means
when he promised you the world/ Down
in front/ That's all they want/ Just two
square inches/ They're all snakes in
Hiatt has a brilliant knack for using
every musical device available and
then some to rivet the listener's atten-
tion to his comments. He uses his own
vigorous guitar work and the booming
bass of Howard Epstein in an in-
novative counterpoint of downbeats and
abbreviated strokes that amount to a
musical meter perfectly synchronized
with Hiatt's vocals. The result is music
that cannot be separated from the
lyrics, channeling the listener's atten-
tion back into the meat of the songs.
Three of the album's finest songs are
brilliantly executed in this manner.
"String Pull Job" jumps to life with an
insistent, thumping bass driven with,
backbeat drumming and sharp guitar

blasts as Hiatt drily puns and taunts his
manipulatable subject: "String pull
job/ Nobddy's finer/ She's got you sewn
up/ With her one-liners." The pace is
torrid as Hiatt grinds the hook in,
mischievoulsy repeating the words
"string pull job" slowly and confiden-
keyboardist Shane Keister are mixed in
with Hiatt's ominously quivering
guitar in "New Numbers," a tirade
against complacence at the hands of a
societal potter. "They've got your
ashes scattered/ Before you even
burn," Hiatt Warns.
In fact, if deceit is monstrous in
Hiatt's. world, self-deceit in a com-
placent society is the final perversion.
"Pink Bedroom" again showcases Ep-
stein and Keister, as the former plucks
out taut chunks of bass notes in har-
mony with Hiatt's vocals and Keister's
staccatto piano. Bluntly assessing the
future of today's customized "me
generation," Hiatt concludes: "It was a
teen game, now its serious! It's all
customized/ Now don't get curious/ We
got your pension/ And your attention/
We got it all/ From your pink

Two floors, South Wing-Avant garde scene. Paintings,
sculpture, and related poetry and music.

Pretension, smug-self-content, and
egocentricity produce a world,full of
clones like the escapist heroine of
"Good Girl, Bad World," and soon they
begin to blur around the edges. "Look
in the mirror and nothing seems
clearer/ And start to cry/ Look in the
mirror and nothing comes clearer/ And
I know why," Hiatt hopelessly sneers.
policeman bloated by too many cop
shows in much the same manner, and
"It Hasn't Happened Yet" deflates the
ego of his dearly departed love to an
unusual (for Hiatt) barroom ballad set-
But the best and the brightest of the
cuts are positive in their own peculiar
sort of way, as Hiatt grabs his subjects
by the balls and demands honest ap-
praisals and a return "Back to the
War." In that song, he turns on the
screws to a singable, bouncy little tune
suitable for AM play but carrying the
inflammatory message "Bombs away
as they say/ I'm not about to pay/
Membership dues/ I've got his
dynamite/ I know you're sitting tight
waiting for news/ Well, I'm lighting the
fuse ... You can make your decision/
Or watch it on television."
Not really wishing to give the listener
that option, Hiatt rips away at
television news shows and the perver-
ted values they propagate in the
album's finest moment, "Face the
Nation." Brilliant ambling basswork is
burst asunder by shrill guitar blasts in
what sounds like an African rhumba
gone electric, as Hiatt systematically
erases one popular myth after another.
Abandoning any semblance of tact, he
demands. "Put down your Time and
Newsweek! Listen to me when I speak!
There is no pulse to finger/ No waves of
grain to bring her/ No purple mountain
story/ And no speech of glory/ Face the
I've never heard of him
either-before now-but Hiatt is a per-
ceptive and invigorating new voice, and
"Two Bit Monsters" may well be the
finest album released this year. Maybe
someone will listen to what the man
The University of Michigan
School of Music Opera Theater
Tomorrow-Saturday at 8:00
Sunday at 3:00
Tickets at PTP, M-F, Noon-5:00
Power Center box office opens
at 6:00 p.m. (763-3333)
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