CD Review of I Can’t Go On, I’ll Go On by The Broken West

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I Can’t Go On, I’ll Go On
starstarstarhalf starno star Label: Merge
Released: 2007
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When a band – especially a band with the word “broken” in its name – cops the title of its debut album from Samuel Beckett, the emo alarms go off; by all rights, this should be a bleak, synth-dependent affair, written and sung by guyliner-wearing dorks with thousands of screaming MySpace friends not far removed from their first periods. It’d probably be better for the Broken West’s pocketbooks if they were an emo band, and this was an emo album, but it isn’t – it’s a gorgeous, sun-dappled scrap of jangly, harmony-drenched power pop, in the Big Star/Teenage Fanclub vein.

The rock & roll highway is littered with the corpses of bands taking a page out of the Big Star songbook. There are definitely people for whom musical nirvana is attained via stacks of harmonies and twelve-string guitars; unfortunately, most of these people seem to be rock critics, because these bands almost never make any money. This is partly because the music is deceptively hard to do right by; any dodo can engineer a record with a tinny bottom end and choruses of “ooooh” and “aaaahh” all over the place, but smart music is hard to write – and even harder to sell. (This is why Diane Warren wipes her ass with hundred-dollar bills, and Alex Chilton spent a year washing dishes to pay the rent.)

None of this augurs well for the Broken West, but it doesn’t matter, because I Can’t Go On, I’ll Go On is a thoroughly wonderful record; not only did the band cop the vibe, it brought some damn fine songs to the party. Anyone who buys music on a regular basis can tell you that, in the modern era, it’s depressingly normal to burn through everything an album has to offer by the fourth song. Album filler has existed as long as albums, of course, but bands used to have the decency to keep it down to two or three subpar songs, and scatter them throughout the record, so – in an effort to get to the good stuff – you’d hear them often enough that they’d grow on you.

I Can’t Go On, I’ll Go On is kind of like that, except there isn’t really any filler, just twelve songs that grow on you more the more you listen to them. If the band has a problem, it’s that it hasn’t found a way to transcend its influences yet; although this is a must-have album for anyone who loves the bands along the Big Star axis, it probably isn’t original enough to make much noise outside those circles. But – and here’s the scary/wonderful thing – the Broken West has only just begun. Given enough time, this group almost certainly has a classic in it

~Jeff Giles