By Jeremy Hallock
By James Khubiar
By Observer Staff
By Kelly Dearmore
By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
Los Angeles man about town Jon Brion's the kind of guy you figure would probably be all right if the world melted while he was asleep and he woke up to find himself the only one left, doomed to an eternity behind the bars of his well-stocked home recording studio. I can think of a few more of those guys--Phil Spector, Brian Wilson, Thom Yorke--but Brion's the only one who doesn't sound like a weirdo, which is probably why he worked with half the people who put out records last year and Spector just spends his time behind the bars of his well-stocked home recording studio.
A sort of linchpin of the "adult pop" scene that attracted a lot of attention in 1999 and 2000 thanks to Aimee Mann's industry woes and her way with a supple melody and a sassy lyric, Brion's name is most often invoked as a master producer and capable sideman, having helmed recent records by Rufus Wainwright and Fiona Apple, as well as playing on those by the Eels, Grant Lee Buffalo, Jellyfish, Elliott Smith and dozens more. All the work--and especially the Friday night residency he holds at L.A. hipster bull's-eye Largo--has created an audience for Brion's baroque pop sensibility, which will no doubt be satisfied by Meaningless, the album he wrote, performed and produced a couple of years ago. Atlantic Records said it would put it out after the film Magnolia, which he scored and whose soundtrack he largely produced, made a home-recording-studio name of Brion, but the label ultimately nixed the project, no doubt in order to dedicate more time to Sugar Ray.
So taking a cue from his friend Mann, Brion released the record on his own Straight to Cut-Out imprint, selling the record from his Web site, www.jonbrion.com. Thank Jon, 'cause Meaningless is a terrific slice of micro-managed pop, flush with multi-tiered melodies and the kind of sonic detailing the Beatles and George Martin used to get a kick out of. A couple of the 11 tunes here sound straight off Revolver: "Walking Through Walls" is shaggy with George Harrison's fuzz guitar, and "Ruin My Day" makes like a sad-sack Paul McCartney on the piano. But the best moments are when Brion stretches out with the whimsical, circuslike interludes he brought to Apple's When the Pawn: He dresses up Cheap Trick's "Voices" with a roomful of chiming music boxes and outros "Dead to the World" with a vintage Disney swirl of strings, harp and (as he says on his Web site) chirping "bluebirds."
Of course, Brion's not the Beatles, and if there's a reason why, it's probably because he's not the greatest singer or lyricist on the planet. Still, he tries valiantly on the gorgeous "Her Ghost," in which he admits that, "so long as he's the life in her, he'll be the death of me." I think I take back the thing about the world melting.