Just Like the Fambly Cat
ust Like the Fambly Cat, even more than Grandaddy's past works, carries the weight of death. Maybe it's the fact that we know it's the group's final album, or maybe it's the lines about "the end of the world" or the passing of summer, or maybe it's the child wondering what happened to the family cat on the disc's first track. Only one thing could happen to the family cat, and Grandaddy sounds invested in only feigning an escape from that knowledge.
If the group's acknowledging the big sleep, they aren't consciously dwelling on it. Tracks like "Elevate Myself" and "Campershell Dreams" focus on the future. The former, a pop-sounding anti-pop movement, desires an escape from life's routine, even if that includes making fun music. As on Sumday, Grandaddy pushes forward through the automatic nature of living, hopeful to begin more than they end. "Campershell Dreams" echoes the general groove of that previous album, and continues the liberation of the isolated, as Jason Lytle urges, "You don't have to be alone anymore."
The sunny yearning of "Campbershell" quickly turns to the hair-pulling "Disconnecty." For all its raucousness, the song proves to be a complex meditation on self-imposed alienation. Lytle sings of a lost son reaching back toward his mother: "He's disconnected but he still loves you." Society demands that we phone it in alone, but Grandaddy fights against that idea; even so, the model child here gets his message home through an intermediary, and the first-person pronoun becomes the less-intimate "he." The desire of Grandaddy's hope turns into a bit of a muddle when placed into the real world, yet the band persists.
That struggle remains affecting throughout, because we get these little reminders of impending seclusion, whether we choose it or we meet the family cat's fate. "Summer...It's Gone" turns an acoustic seasonal thought into a spiritually autumnal take on losing direction and finding "dead ends." The album appears to close with "This Is How It Always Starts." The title comes off like a morbid joke to end a band's life, until Lytle sings about the beginning of the end. At times of crisis, we tend to hide—"Oh, shit, I can't let them see me like this"—and at that moment the "blown apart" sensation becomes inevitable. The "always" in the title describes the recurring nature of this problem, and irrevocably cripples any lingering optimism. Sad, yes, but a powerful artistic statement. As the sound builds, the track ends—the futuristic equivalent of the Viking funeral, a spaceship taking a still-breathing corpse away from Earth.
As if to reinforce the departure, Lytle sings a bonus track over a melodramatic piano line: "I'll never return, I'll never return...to Shangri-La." This is the end, the exit from paradise. And yet, Shangri-La was the place where you would be cut off from the rest of the world, alone in your mountainous hideaway. Maybe that spaceship is actually coming back this way. No matter how hopeless it seems, someone has to go look for that cat.