Retro Music Review

Steve Taylor – Squint (1993)

Squint - Steve Taylor. ALbum Artwork © 1993 Warner Bros. Records Inc.

We just passed the 25th anniversary of Steve Taylor’s “Squint.” For those that don’t know Steve Taylor – think about a a Christian version of Cake. Steve Taylor is sarcastic, a bit humorous at times, and very outspoken. Steve Taylor has never been afraid to point out right and wrong in his music – though if you are getting rebuked by his music, you kind of feel good about it. You kind of feel like laughing….unless you’re Jimmy Swaggart.

Squint holds a place in my favorite albums of all time, and certainly my favorite solo Steve Taylor album. A lot of time had passed for Taylor between his last solo album, “I Predict 1990” (1987), and Squint so his sound certainly evolved from a power pop/rock sound to a modern/alternative rock sound. Want to know more? Join me as I give “Squint” a retro album review!

The Lament of Desmond R.G. Underwood-Frederick IV. 

When I first saw the words, “The Lament of…,” I imagined a flowery orchestral piece for whatever reason. Instead I’m greeted with guitars and lyrics stating “The news of my impending death came at a really bad time for me.” What the actual hell did I just hear? Seriously, I remember playing this song for my friends Dave and Stephanie one day. Steph said something like….”is there an actual good time to hear about your death?

Actually – no, and that’s kind of the point of this song. There is no good time to die. No matter what you’re up to, in this guy’s case, he’s busy chasing the trendy adult things that people did in the 90s. He was getting in touch with his inner child, as well as his feminine side. He had just started a new career. In short – he was wasting his time being a selfish navel gazer.

A side note, there’s a song by Chagall Guevara’s (Steve’s short lived band formed in 89) called “The Rub of  Love.” In that song, we get a child’s perspective of a dad who just up and leaves. A safe bet that the dad in “The Rub of Love” is none other than Desmond R.G. Underwood-Frederick IV.

Bannerman

Bannerman might not hold up so well – simply because of the subject matter. The song serves a tribute,  Steve says on his live album, Liver…”those brave men and women out there….risking hypothermia…out there in the stands in football games…holding up banners saying John 3:16.” Why doesn’t the song hold up? Well – the most famous Bannerman, Rollen Stewart, turned out to be a bit of a nutter. From Wikipedia…

Stewart is currently serving three consecutive life sentences in prison on kidnapping charges,[2] having rejected a plea deal of 12 years in order to spread his message in open court. After being sentenced, he began a religious tirade and had to be restrained by bailiffs.[8] He became eligible for parole in 2002, but was denied as recently as March 2010; his next parole review was to be in 2017.[4][9] After this conviction, he was found guilty of four stink bomb attacks.[4]

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rollen_Stewart#Arrest

Oy….I mean….Steve did say this was a tribute to (all) those brave men and women – not just the most famous guy. Steve even stated in an interview “Well, you know that it can’t be just about that guy, or the lyric would’ve had to say “He seldom shoots back when they tell him ‘move along,'” instead of “He seldom talks back…” Still – I kind of cringe a little when I listen to this song.

Smug

While “Bannerman’s tribute doesn’t age all that well, the message of “Smug” ages surprisingly well. Basically, “Smug”comes out against the piety and, well, smugness of those who believe they have the right answer – particularly in the church. OR rather – those who refuse to be wrong. “Smug” is classic Steve Taylor. Smug takes the gloves off, and says “This kind of behavior – this needs to stop.” 

A favorite line of mine – “we love to mud wrestle, we love being politically Koreshed.” The line references the Branch Davidians. Essentially – the line says those who get so dogmatic and smug are no better than a suicide cult.  Taylor also references Rush Limbaugh, as well as Barbara Streisand (who at the time was known for going on vehement rants). Essentially – Steve is saying don’t be these people!

Jesus is for Losers

With “Jesus is for Losers,” we get our first ballad on Squint. While Steve basically says it’s an autobiographical song about his faith, I believe the song fits well as a sequel to “Smug.” While “Smug talks about, well, smugness – “Jesus is for Losers” acts as sort of a blueprint for humility. “Jesus is for Losers” talks about mistakes one makes, and how they steer a person of faith off course. Ultimately, the song makes one think about what they should do differently. 

The Finish Line

“The Finish Line” is one of the few songs where Steve Taylor really evokes pathos in his songwriting. Taylor seems to really like the song – in a 2005 interview, he states:

“The Finish Line” is a song that I like a lot. Usually I pick these songs apart and wish I’d done things differently, but that one I still really like a lot. I’d written it after the band I was in, Chagall Guevara, broke up. There’s a fair amount of personal stuff in there, but it was just telling this story of someone who takes the journey and makes it to the finish line. I like that one, but it probably suffers from over-explanation.

http://www.sockheaven.net/press/interviews/listenin_200508/

Not a fancy song mind you – but sometimes the simple songs are the best songs.

The Moshing Floor

Before we freaked out about Millenials, society freaked out about Gen Xers and our “whatever” attitude. “The Moshing Floor” reflects those sentiments about our alleged nihilism. Still – there’s more than just Gen Xers being Gen Xers in “The Moshing Floor.” The song talks about the deconstruction of society as a whole. The song talks about Jesus just being a franchise in the food court – like something we can just choose or not choose, doesn’t matter because there’s a million other choices and all of them taste the same. 

While the references of this particular song sound dated, maybe the concept of the song isn’t so dated. After all, we’re all so concerned that millenials are ruining everything we hold dear. Maybe if we take “The Moshing Floor,” and use it as a historic lens to the past, the new generation won’t seem so scary after all!

One of my favorite lines on Squint comes from this song: “Old Doc Marten / He made me say ‘ah’.” I remember being in a few moshing pits and getting my foot stomped upon by a pair of Doc Martens. I did indeed say, nay, yell, “ahhhhhhhhh!”

Easy Listening

I’ve never heard Steve do reggae before – and I never thought I would until “Easy Listening.” The fact that Steve doesn’t do an authentic reggae, but rather a watered down version of the genre gives “Easy Listening” a strength it wouldn’t otherwise possess. After all – the song is called “Easy Listening,” which itself is a watered down genre.

“Easy Listening” focuses on an old man recounting days of prosperity doctrine and listening to Barry Manilow. The old man can’t understand why the youth of 2044 aren’t going for all the money they can. Why they’re actually following the words of Jesus, and not the words of some televangelist. 

To be certain – “Easy Listening” is idealistic. Here we sit 25 years later, and while there’s certainly those that aren’t swayed by prosperity doctrine, the doctrine still looks like it’s here to stay.

Curses

“Curses” might be the most interesting song on Squint. The verses sound very similar to that of Alice in Chain’s “Would.” The melody, the bass line, the guitars. One almost wonders if Steve took some inspiration from Alice in Chains.

Lyrically We have the same abandoned father we might find in “The Lament of…” (as well as the aforementioned “The Rub of Love”). So that’s another similarity between “Would” and “Curses.” Both songs are about abandonment. One of a father, and one through the death of a friend. 

Perhaps the most haunting part of the song is the chorus. Steve quotes Psalms 37 in a way that condemns the father. As we hear “Never have seen the Righteous forsaken,” one feels like the speaker of “Curses” is yelling. No matter what the father’s justifications for abandoning his starving family, they are not righteous justifications. The proof is in the father’s life – the fact that he’s very much forsaken. Chilling!

Sock Heaven

I’ve already mentioned Steve was in a band called Chagall Guevara. “Sock Heaven” presents a loose allegory for CG’s attempt at forming a rock band full of misfits. Steve, Dave Perkins, Lynn Nichols, Wayde Janes, and Mike Mead had all tumbled around the CCM world for some time, and eventually found each other. They put together what I consider to be my all time favorite album, and yet a lot of their audience just didn’t like the music – they just didn’t get it. Maybe they wanted more of Steve’s early sarcasm and satire, I don’t know. Regardless – the band didn’t last that long. 

The second half of the second verse sums up Steve’s feelings on his career.

Seven good years
Followed by a feeling
I’d hit the glass ceiling
Maybe I’d best disappear
Pick any market
Pick a straitjacket
If you can’t act it
Misfit, you don’t belong here

http://www.sockheaven.net/discography/taylor/squint/sock_heaven/

Steve’s career was not going where he wanted it to go. This is partly why he joined CG. Luckily for us – even after the breakup of the band, Steve didn’t give up on making music. He made Squint, he produced, and even formed a record label for artists who were essentially misfits themselves. That song, Kiss Me, by Sixpence None the Richer? Yeah – that’s partly thanks to Steve’s label giving Sixpence the creative control they needed.

Thanks for not giving up, Steve.

Cash Cow (A Rock Opera in Three Small Acts)

If “Cash Cow” does not scare you – then there’s something wrong with you. Essentially, “Cash Cow” speaks of the evils of capitalism and greed in Steve’s signature satirical style. 

To describe the sound of Cash Cow, is to describe a very bad dream. Chanting – tempos that slowly get faster and faster…..vocals slowly going from “normal” to high pitched screaming. Drums beating closer and closer together. Yeah – the song is an epic nightmare.

Act III of “Cash Cow” – a guitar solo – evens out the track nicely, and provides a fitting end to “Squint,” an album that’s all over the place.  Almost like a palate cleanser after a meal full of so many flavors your tongue just can’t keep up.


Does Squint hold up after 25 Years?

I don’t know if I can answer this question objectively, as I obviously really love “Squint.” I will say that despite the 25 years I’ve had to digest the album, it still holds as my favorite Steve Taylor (solo) album, so that’s something right there. 

As far as the lyrics, the themes are mostly current. Sure – we Gen Xers gave up on moshing a long time ago (you should see what kids call moshing now by the way, oy). However – the idea of parental abandonment, capitalism and greed gone rampant, and smug people pressing their opinions and ideas on others are very much relevant to today. 

I dig the grunge stylings of most of the songs – and while that’s not the hip thing to do anymore, I still think “Squint” sounds darn good. Having said that – a Steve Taylor album always makes so much more sense when one listens to, and tries to analyze the lyrics. So – given that people don’t tend to analyze things too much maybe this album doesn’t hold up as much as I like it. Whatever.