The curse of the fetishistic rock fan is that one can never listen to something new without reflecting upon how it sounds so much like something old. The thrill of the discovery is shoved aside by the ache of stumbling, once more, across the fetid and familiar. You are forever thinking, "I've heard this before," until, finally, any morsel of joy (I love this album...) is replaced by the nagging guilt that comes with coveting something second-hand (...because it sounds like every other album I bought in college). If only one could cleanse the palate every time you heard something for the first time--ditch the baggage, eradicate the vestigial notes that clank around the brain, forget everything before tomorrow. Since we can't, we instead compare, contrast, and qualify until we completely forget there's bona fide passion beneath the familiar façade. We deride, disregard, and discard the new simply because it contains echoes of the old, which is a damned shame.
This is not to say Clumsy is a gang of revolutionaries constructing the unheard music out of a proverbial language--far from it, in fact. Center of Attention Deficit Disorder will sound familiar to anyone weaned on the Replacements or any of its subsequent spin-offs, especially Tommy Stinson's Bash and Pop and, later, Perfect. That is to be expected: Clumsy frontman Marc Solomon played guitar in Perfect, which released only an EP before having its full-length tied up in legal limbo, and Clumsy guitarist Nate Fowler (who has since left the band) shares with Solomon the sort of passion for the Replacements usually reserved for first loves and second wives. It would have been far more shocking had the two of them knocked out a debut that sounded nothing like the Replacements. If nothing else, they live up to expectations. Actually, they transcend them.
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It's easy enough to sound like yesterday, to mine and mimic without giving care to establishing your own identity, but only the capable can make yesterday sound like their own extraordinary today. Center of Attention Deficit Disorder isn't a hollow echo, a tepid homage, but a tangible kick that stands on its own without disappearing in the shadow of mythical refuse. (Besides, they owe as much to Soul Asylum, around the time Bob Mould produced that Minneapolis band, and circa-Sub Pop Afghan Whigs as they do the Pleased to Meet Me-era Replacements, who never made a perfect record anyway.) It's an album built on a series of questions (cf. "What have you got in mind for me?" "Why won't you dance with me?" "What the hell did I do wrong?" "How could you lock me out?" "Where were you when we thought freedom was cigarettes and shots of tequila?"), the answers to which come around the time Solomon shrugs that "we've given up the drugs and alcohol/For dishes and Tylenol," the admission of the musician (and music fan) who, finally, has come of age. And so there's a depth and, oy, wisdom to the songs missing whenever young acolytes climb aboard history: These boys are "living in between," as they insist, caught between being kids playing bash-'em-up and adults living out a weekend, teenage daydream. Hence, three power ballads thrown into the barrage-rock mix--the best of which sound like "Achin' to Be," the worst of which (the closing, countryish "Wrote You a Letter," with its awkward phrasing of "I have to change/Because better you deserve") sounds like the Goo Goo Dolls at their mawkish, commercial worst. These guys offer a superior brand of, yes, replacement.