The Minus 5 – The Minus 5

Music Reviews The Minus 5
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The Minus 5 – The Minus 5

Cathartic, pure-pop divorce soundtrack

The Minus 5, the primary outlet of R.E.M. hired gun Scott McCaughey, who formerly helmed Seattle’s Young Fresh Fellows, doubles as a low-pressure sanctuary for slumming stars and fellow indie-pop strivers. Maybe that’s why Minus 5 records tend to sound so relaxed and upbeat—until the latest one, that is; McCaughey’s marriage was breaking up as these songs took shape.

Leave it to this inveterate jokester to sully a suite of heartbreak songs with a corrosive throwaway, as “Aw Shit Man” immediately kills the mood created by bittersweet opener “Rifle Called Goodbye.” With that howl of self-loathing out of the way, McCaughey gets down to thematic business with alky lament “Out There on the Maroon,” ironically accented by a guitar riff copped from Roy Orbison’s “O Pretty Woman,” followed by the nakedly confessional “My Life as a Creep.” Then he wheels out the heavy artillery.

Wilco ably plays the part of McCaughey’s backing band on jangly gem “With a Gun,” then The Decembrists’ Colin Meloy takes the mic for “Cemetery Row,” with its wistful pedal steel and perfectly executed Ringo drum fills. Keeping both the premise and the momentum going is “Twilight Distillery,” on which Peter Buck plays the archetypal Byrds 12-string pattern over an ecclesiastical organ provided by McCaughey. Three songs later comes the lovely desperation of “Bought a Rope,” while the subsequent “All Worn Out” reprises McCaughey’s love of gossamer Beach Boys harmonies. Inevitably, the album ends with a curveball in the form of faux-folkloric stomper “Original Luke,” as if McCaughey were trying to convince us that the whole thing was just another inside joke.