By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Alice Laussade
By Scott Reitz
Sometimes, an album just feels inevitable, like it was always out there, ready and willing, but so elusive it couldn't be captured. When it arrives, finally, all you can do is listen to it again and again and wonder where it was all this time--lying dormant somewhere, playing hide-and-seek with its maker and audience, or beside you all along. When you pop it into the CD player, you're tempted to leave it there for months, because every song on it satisfies, whether it's the need to rock, sway, or swoon in sadness; it gives you everything it has and asks only that you play along. If you can spot the influences, fine (say, isn't that a snippet from "A Quick One" by The Who?), but if you can't, you'll be no less thrilled. Your satisfaction doesn't hinge upon knowing so much, only that you hear it all with ears, and heart, wide open.
Beyond Indifferenceis the fourth album of Peter Schmidt's career, but it's so far better and beyond anything else he's ever done--be it with Three on a Hill, gone and long forgotten; or Funland, which never caught a break until it broke up; or even with his solo-but-not project Legendary Crystal Chandelier--that it possesses the ability to startle and delight even those who've known Schmidt a long, long time. To brand his latest as a masterwork is meaningless--such celebratory adjectives have lost their impact in an era that celebrates Eminem's "genius" and Creed's "talent"--but it's one of those rare albums that elicits a grin with every spin. You'll never tire of it, if only because it brings something for everyone--and without pandering, all the more rare a feat. It's the album that celebrates without condescending, meaning it sounds familiar but never like a rip-off; it's the sound of a man who's absorbed and appropriated the entirety of rock without sacrificing his own identity in the process of transforming himself from fan to fabricator. He aims to please, but no one more than himself, and the result is insistent and infectious--the smile that turns into a long, roiling laugh.
Some songs ("People I Know," "A Plan") belong in the arena; others ("Cut From the Same Cloth," "Pictures"), in the bedroom. Some sound like anthems; others, like lullabies. It begs the question: Do generic labels (folk, new wave, pop, etc.) mean anything anymore? Simply, the album--recorded over a period of a year, from November 1999 through last October--can be described like this: 11 songs, 11 styles, one Schmidt. Listening to it is like scanning the dial of some Perfect World car stereo; there's even some sonic static and ethereal samples in between cuts, as if to signal the changing of stations between, oh, the whispered piano balladry of "Temporary Words" (as in, they're hard to sing) and the Byrdsian bounce of "Million Miserable People" (as in, Schmidt's but one of a million of 'em) and the irresistible, nah-nah-nah-nah hookiness of "Simple Solution" (as in, there isn't one).
With partner James Henderson (who provides everything from the synthed string sections to the "banged tambourines") and former Deathray Davies employer John Dufilho (playing drums on a handful of tracks), Schmidt has made the perfect record: It defies simple description and definition (how does one write of a record that includes one track that sounds like Night and Day-era Joe Jackson and yet another that recalls midperiod Kinks?) but is so accessible it all but begs you to listen to it until you wear out the digital grooves of a compact disc. After listening to it a few months ago, one A&R exec in Los Angeles could only say of the album, "I've listened to it three times, and I still can't get my mind around it. This guy is..." Long pause, then short burst: "Everything." If there exists a better compliment, I've yet to hear it.