By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Alice Laussade
By Scott Reitz
For The Magic is You!, Corn Mo was thrilled to have access to a grand piano, which replaces his accordion on most of the album's 13 tracks. The piano lends appropriate gravity to his power ballads--"Goin' to LA," "I Wish You Were My Home"--which are direct tributes to Mötley Crüe's most sentimental moments. No chuckling please; he's serious. He's loved glammy hair metal since seventh grade, and he's never looked beyond it--to, say, navel-gazing indie rock, and certainly not dour, Bizkit-type moaners--for sincere inspiration. "David Lee Roth is the greatest," he insists.
Adolescent angst and snack foods are his favorite themes, sung about with the kind of athletic vibrato not heard since 1987. And he does so with the quiet awareness that others probably don't take this stuff so seriously; he senses that the squeak of a kazoo should counter his pathological obsession with theatrics. Magic boasts the kazoo, as well as the slide whistle, the New Year's Eve noisemaker, the washboard, the handclap--and that's just a start. Corn Mo uses this quirky soundscape to compose mini-anthems, heroic passages and chaotic polkas. If his spiritual father is Freddie Mercury, then his spiritual uncle is Tiny Tim.
Corn Mo's best Magic trick, however, may be his honesty, which is, in this order: jarring, poignant and very funny. The song "Robert Holiday" is about what happens when a really nice kid finally gets fed up with an annoying classmate ("His name is Robert, and he wishes too hard/His voice is too shrilly, and his wave is too large"). It's a slice of actual childhood, in the spirit of Matt Groening's "Life in Hell." Like this one, his songs sometimes contain conversations between two characters, which--when spoken-sung--sound so realistic it's downright voyeuristic. During performances, Corn Mo's between-song banter is gemlike in its clear-eyed observation. He explains things patiently: why the mall in Lewisville is better than Golden Triangle, or how bad it feels to be pelted by ice-throwing frat boys.
Those pensive moments ride a constant undercurrent of absurdity. One of the album's most satisfying songs, the already mentioned "Busey Boy" (about being mistaken for the actor Gary Busey), begins: "There was a young boy who put brown rice on his eyebrows and dried cranberries under his chin/Went to clubs and said, 'Hi, my name is Wild Rice, would you let me in for free?'/I said, 'There's no cover, you've got rice on your face...'"
It is, in fact, the track that best illustrates Corn Mo's ambition, if not his ultimate potential. The arrangement is denser, more intense and epic, and completely supports the inherent oddness of the lyrics. You want his weird world to expand, to take over, to explode. You start thinking, "What if this guy had at his disposal a full orchestra and a chorus?" Perhaps we'll see. He is, of course, also working on a rock opera.