So, apparently, the guy who is East River Pipe, Fred Cornog, has been building a music career by making one-off albums in the basement studio of his New Jersey home and giving them to a label, whereupon they are released to the public and the man has no obligation to leave his family or his actual occupation to tour or do any promotional work, whatsoever. With that knowledge in mind, We Live in Rented Rooms, Cornog’s first album in five years, pretty much sounds like it came from a guy who makes one-off albums in a basement in New Jersey between stints at an actual work place; his newest is passive, mundane, and painfully boring.
We Live in Rented Rooms is a near spitting image of the vaguely electronic hipster pop that Eels has been making for more than a decade, except Cornog has an even more voracious penchant for awkward lyrics. In fact, the only thing that makes the album stand out at all is the fact that Cornog feels the need to accompany his bland folk songs with lyrical concepts that do not fit the material at all. Album opener, “Backroom Deals” attempts to simplify the government’s reaction to the financial crisis through the repetition of the title in only the most vaporous way. Not only does it come off as shallow (which I can’t necessarily blame him for, as nothing really rhymes with “no-credit default swaps”), but it doesn’t even sound like Cornog believes what he’s saying, as if he’d just walked into a studio and figured he’d make something up while he strummed his gui-tar for a couple minutes.
“Conman” has similar political aspirations. It’s difficult to tell what the point Cornog’s trying to make when he sings, “The priest’s making love on his knees,” but it’s just as well, as I come out of the song not giving a rat’s ass as to what it could possibly mean, anyway.
Such is the plight of We Live in Rented Rooms. If it weren’t for Cornog’s numerous lyrical gaffes, the album would be a pointless listen. At least it’s a little interesting to see how the guy screws up the revenge ballad concept of “Payback Time” (He’s cacophonous right out the gate when he leads off with the line “Yeah, I saw you with the commandant”) and the resemblance of “Tommy Made a Movie” to a minor-key “Tommy Can You Here Me?” has a fleeting entertainment value, but most of We Live in Rented Rooms sounds half-assed and complacent. I would say that Cornog shouldn’t quit his day job, but he seems to have a much better grasp of his artistic longevity than I do.