Another Fine Day
ou feel guilty for being surprised by this album. Last time Golden Smog released anything (1998's Weird Tales) we knew what they were: an "alt-country supergroup." And if Weird Tales wasn't quite that simple, it was simple enough: perennial mixtape track "Until You Came Along" twanging and wailing in the hands of the Jayhawks' Gary Louris and songs like "Please Tell My Brother" exhibiting the already-weary pipes of a pre-Summerteeth Jeff Tweedy. The record was long and sloppy and uneven and enjoyable, and thus easily pigeonholed as the kind of long, sloppy, uneven, enjoyable record that happens when a bunch of people who kind of know each other sit down with some guitars—yes, we understood, Golden Smog was a Traveling Wilburys full of people nobody really knew.
So we're a little surprised to find a Golden Smog album in 2006. The Jayhawks haven't released an album in three years; nobody uses the word "alt-country" except to make fun of people who speak in genres; and Jeff Tweedy's spent the last eight years slowly ceasing to sound anything like Jay Farrar. Another Fine Day at first appears a bizarre anachronism—a record by a presumed-dead supergroup whose members have spent the time since their last release carefully discarding everything they had in common. But Golden Smog—nay, alt-country in general—never sailed under the banner of a single genre, and Another Fine Day survives the long silence by being what you'd expect from Golden Smog's members rather than what you'd expect from Golden Smog: hooky, rocky, hardly revolutionary; not Weird Tales, and not bad.
Listeners anxious to see what effect Wilco's transmogrification has had on Jeff Tweedy's other band will be disappointed. Tweedy's presence here earns barely more than a "featuring" credit—he co-writes two songs and sings lead on one, a twinkling fraternal-love ditty called "Long Time Ago" to which Tweedy applies his amiable heat-haze croon before ducking out of the studio three minutes later. The bulk of Another Fine Day belongs to the Jayhawks—Marc Perlman, Kraig Jarret Johnson, and Louris, who write most of the album, with occasional contributions from Dan Murphy of Soul Asylum and others—and the decision not to highlight the only member of the band to possess anything approaching a household name is both refreshing in general and successful in the particular: stripped of Wilco-side-project baggage, Golden Smog seems no less of a real band than it did in 1998. Louris presides over such successes as the cleverly heartfelt "Gone" and the likeable if blandly anthemic title track; Johnson contributes a little triumph of backup vocals called "5/22/02"; Murphy turns in the album's best cut with "Hurricane," which carefully and modestly avoids every trap its generic title, thunderous blues posturing, and ancient metaphor forebode.
"Hurricane" is a rare true solo effort, its incongruous swagger the closest the surprisingly unified Another Fine Day comes to old Golden Smog's cubbyholed White Album school of songwriter collaboration—most songs are a slop of writers' credits, particularly those by the Jayhawks artists. The democratic approach, coupled with the album's perhaps inadvisable length—it runs to just over an hour—means that there's some filler here, and this isn't really a Successful Record by conventional means. Like everything this band's made, it's long, sloppy, and uneven, but at this point that's the idea: here are a bunch of people who kind of know each other sitting down with some guitars. They haven't sat down together for a while now, and there's been a lot going on in the meantime, but they still know each other, and they can still play: why should you be surprised?