Title: With a Gun
Artist: The Minus 5
Album: The Minus 5
Poor Scott McCaughey. If you said "who?", then you know exactly what I mean. The Seattle-based guitarist and singer for The Young Fresh Fellows and The Minus 5 seems to be bursting with creative juices and has an unquenchable passion for writing the quaintest indie pop songs west of the Mississippi. But with a voice that falls somewhere on the spectrum between Jerry Garcia and Jeff Tweedy and songs that don't quite live up to those of his contemporaries (REM, Wilco), I can't imagine he will ever establish a foothold with a large fan base. This may be exactly what he wants but it also means those of us who do tune in never get the reward we're seeking.
I bought The Minus 5, a.k.a. "The Gun Album" after hearing approximately twelve seconds of the lead track, "Rifle Called Goodbye," which sports a Beatle-esque opening, fancy chord progression and evocative lyrics (The quartermaster bakes a radio/The traitor's a rag doll in the tornado). But the album becomes a letdown shortly thereafter and, while it gradually gets better with repeated exposure, I'm not reaching for it very often.
"With a Gun" is a standout on the album. It's simple but pleasing and the opening lines (like almost all of McCaughey's songs) command your attention ("I like you with a gun/The way you shine/Silver barrel in the sun"). There's a really nicely situated major-seventh chord in each verse (on the word "barrel" in the highlighted verse) and his clever use of the word "spiral-bound" lights up the lyricist in me. It's really a great song and wouldn't seem out of place on one of the early Wilco albums. But that's the problem for me. I hear this song and wish I were listening to Wilco instead. It's impossible not to make the comparison—The Minus 5 even collaborate with Wilco frequently—and McCaughey and Co. don't often measure up. Still, it's not hard to appreciate The Minus 5's spirited performances and McCaughey's fervor and skill as a songwriter.