Just Like The Fambly Cat
Grandaddy have been delighting us for many a year with their unique take on synth-rock, but Just Like The Fambly Cat will be their last offering after the announcement late last year that they were splitting. The question is, is this album a fitting swansong to their impressive run?
The answer of course is a resounding yes. Just Like… is a captivating record, taking on more layers and levels with every track and with every listen. Over the space of fourteen tracks, the band cover twitchy ambience, thrashy punk and big fun rock, in some cases, utilising all of these in just one song (eg- the excellent "Summer…It's Gone", but more on that later.)
The album is, at first glance, a concept album about the family cat running away from home and its journey, this is most evident on "Where I'm Anymore" complete with cat-like meowing. But there must be more to it than that, there is an underlying menace and general twitchiness that hovers over this collection, even when the music is at its sweetest, the menace is always there, lurking in an acrimonious guitar or a rare sardonic snap in Jason Lytle's otherwise honeyed vocals. But if there is more to it, then what is it?
Well, if you listen to album highlight "Summer … It's Gone", you can hear a desolation that runs much deeper than a cat that has eloped, both in the music and in the lyrics. It veers from an easy country strum to chugging rock to portentous synth rock, seemingly without structure, and is augmented by clanging bells and squalling guitars. The track is uncomfortable and fragmentary, it shouldn't work, the parts are too incompatible, too disparate, but when coupled with the lyrics, it makes perfect emotional sense. "Summer is gone, and I don't know/ where everyone went or where I'll go" rasps Lytle barely audibly. He repeats this mantra multiple times until the end where he simply whispers, "it's gone". Here, it should become perfectly clear what the real concept of this record is, the "Fambly Cat" is Grandaddy.
Where The Sophtware Slump was concerned with the rise of technology in exchange for liberty, Just Like… is about themselves, a more personal record. That's not to say that it is an entirely self indulgent and insular record, there are hints of environmental concerns peppered throughout the album, particularly on "The Animal World" and "Where I'm Anymore" with its allusion to "exercise equipment piled high". But, this is certainly not the main focus of the record. Just Like… is the sound of a band coming to terms with the fact that they've given it all they can, and now it's time to walk away into an uncertain future.
The opening track "What Happened…" consists largely of infant voices asking "what happened to the family cat?" until it descends into noise and the sound of the same children giggling. They were concerned about the cat for a while, but then forgot about it and found something else to entertain them, possibly a meditation on the disposability of pop culture that the band always were reluctant to get involved with, which, of course, was a contributing factor to their demise.
Elsewhere, "This Is How It Starts" sees Lytle lamenting the loss of the permanence of his band, "Things were stable yesterday/ but now they're blown away". Listening to this knowing that the band have now split, and set to such a despondent musical backing, is a truly stirring experience. This doesn't mean, though, that you can't fully understand the record without this particular piece of biographical information. It makes perfect sense alone and has meanings contained within it, that will make it a relationship break down staple for melancholy indie types for years to come. The album buzzes with conflict and uncertainty through the band's scattergun and unhinged approach to song writing, and for this reason, it is one of the most interesting records you'll hear this year, despite not having any immediate "hit" singles on it.
But, by the time the last track rolls around, where Lytle is resigned to misery to a backdrop of sweeping strings and a moody piano figure, singing "I'll never return", we can say that, yes, Grandaddy were just like the family cat. We took them for granted, and now they're gone, and we'll miss them. And on hearing their final record, we can only hope that the old cat can forgive us all and come back home.