The Work Group, 1998
REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 04/20/1998
It's not often I get excited about an artist just by reading their bio. To be honest, I try not to put too much faith in materials that are included with some of the review copies of discs I get in the mail. But Dan Bern was different - here was someone that was portrayed as outspoken, irreverent, and provocative - not to mention having a great introspective view in his songs.
No sooner had I read his bio that I found myself tugging at the shrinkwrap on his latest release Fifty Eggs. I had to hear for myself if all of this was true - if it was, he was a musician after my own heart. And while the buildup is a tad strong - he's not as outrageous as I would have expected - Bern definitely is the Loudon Wainwright III of Generation X, and deserves your attention.
Produced by alternative chanteuse Ani DiFranco, Bern makes the most of his talents, though it takes a song or two to get used to his style of singing. Once you've digested "Tiger Woods" (a song that has little to do with the golfer), the rest is easy. Even "Tiger Woods" isn't a bad track, one in which Bern claims "It ain't braggin' if it's true."
The outrageousness comes when Bern dares to compare historical stalwarts with the rest of us who are looking for a purpose in life in the song "One Thing Real". But far from being blasphemous, it reminds us that we're all basically in the same search for what makes us complete.
His outspokenness continues on songs like "Cure For AIDS," in which Bern imagines the world once the cure is available in a pill form. And if you think this is sacreligious, don't yell at Bern - such a concept has been around for some time. (If you want shock value, check out "No Missing Link," in which Bern offers his own view of man's evolution.)
But just as Bern challenges your view of the world with a slap in the face on Fifty Eggs, he also shows his mettle as a storyteller. On "Oh Sister," Bern tells of the importance of this person in his life: "And where would Willie Mays have been / Without Jackie Robinson / And who can say what I'd been / Without you to lead the way." It's a song that I find myself returning to often. "Different Worlds" dares to point out that even in "the great American melting pot," there is a lot that separates (in Bern's example) blacks and whites, but he points this out reverently.
And as much as DiFranco's influence is important on Fifty Eggs, one wonders how many mentions on the album is enough. Bern mentions her name twice in songs ("Chick Singers" and "One Dance"). Hey, isn't it enough that I'm now intrigued enough to check out some of DiFranco's work? (In Bern's defense, on "Chick Singers," he does well in remembering many artists whom rock fans in general might not have paid much attention to in the past.)
But just as Loudon Wainwright III was dismissed as a joke because of one stupid novelty hit in "Dead Skunk," people might not consider Bern to be serious because of the nature of some of his music. To these people, I say you've missed the point entirely (and in the case of Wainwright, you're still missing the point). Bern isn't out there to make us laugh; he uses humor, explicit detail and the like to get his message across, and for the most part, he does an excellent job.
Biggest criticism: Why do artists continue to throw hidden tracks on CDs? Granted, I didn't have to wade through 40 three-second-long tracks of silence to get to the 13th song - but this shit has to stop. Credit the track on the liner notes and get it out of the way. (Sorry, but enough is enough - seems like I'm running into this once a week these days.)
Fifty Eggs is a disc that should be given a fair shake by both rock fans, alternative fans and even folk afficionados alike. Bern has been clawing his way towards recognition with his take-no-prisoners approach to the music - and it's working.