By Jeremy Hallock
By James Khubiar
By Observer Staff
By Kelly Dearmore
By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
Stephen Nutt's sense of humor is black enough to get lost in the dark. To him, life is a joke; death, the punch line. The Fury III singer-guitarist is almost laughably obsessed with failure and disappointment of all kinds, resulting in songs that are fatalistic to the point of parody. The lyrics are so tenebrous, you need a flashlight and pair of infrared goggles to make them out. At first, you assume it's an act; no one could be that morbid and get out of bed every morning. Then again, his morose brooding is so overblown, you can't imagine anyone having the heart--or a reason--to fake it. The truth is somewhere in the middle: Nutt's cynicism is probably real, but he definitely plays it up a bit in his music. After all, anyone who suggests using a photo of a coffin in lieu of one of himself or his band--as he did when a Fury III feature appeared in the Observer a few months ago--is in on the joke.
Still, with lyrics like "Death waits like a cement floor / Waits for a dropping light bulb" (from the title track), sometimes it's difficult to see the humor. Separately, the songs on Poor Me sound like seven tracks of Nutt pissing in his own beer. He litters his songs with drama queens and kings, hopeless characters who can't help but take matters to dangerous extremes, screwing things up on purpose because they know they'll end up that way eventually. After listening to the gloomy lyrics of "I Took a Sick Day" ("We'll never find the time to finish our lives"), you practically expect Nutt to come barging in your house with blood on his hands and a gun in his pocket, asking if he can lay low at your place for a few days while things cool down. However, as a whole, listening to Poor Me is like watching cartoon violence, so gloriously over-the-top that you can't take a single word seriously.
The music helps lighten the mood as well, disguising Nutt's dour sentiments with white-boy soul and jangly garage-pop guitar. Occasionally, it sounds as if the music is apologizing for the lyrics, like a three-chord self-defense mechanism. "Shopping Cart Races" and "Circus Act" end up sounding like the Kinks or the Small Faces performing Leonard Cohen songs, at once catchy and depressing. Nutt's guitar-playing tries in vain to cheer up his vocals, and on "Payback," it almost works. The song's stuttering, staccato guitar is happily incompatible with Nutt's tale of an aborted relationship and all the frustration and confusion it causes. By the end of the song, you're humming the melody, but you've completely forgotten what Nutt was talking about. Most of the time, that's a good thing.
Fury III will perform a CD-release show November 12 at the Liquid Lounge.