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Grandaddy:: Just Like The Fambly Cat (Album Review)

Set on fire with some of the most brilliant power-pop blazes the band has ever produced, Grandaddy’s tomb sails out to sea with this Viking funeral of a send-off. Waving good-bye from shore, hardcore devotees and casual appreciators will be comforted by the knowledge that Grandaddy didn’t die in vain. Valhalla is Jason Lytle’s destination, and even if he’s never heard from again, his reputation as the great bearded king – I don’t recognize the new clean-shaven masquerade – of wistful, wide-eyed, rapturous space-pop is secure.

When it’s just a speck on the horizon, Just Like the Fambly Cat will be fondly remembered as the quintessential Grandaddy album, a Jason Lytle joint that somehow managed to please everybody without really trying. That was something the commercial and artistic flop that was Sumday couldn’t do. Another difficult birth that wound up actually killing Grandaddy this time, Just Like the Fambly Cat swerves recklessly from radiation-burnt rockers like “Jeez Louise,” with its squirrelly electronic twitter, and “50%,” a punched-up blast of punk, into swaying, sun-dappled hayfields of melody like “Campershell Dreams” and “Where I’m Anymore,” with its quirky chorus of meows and delightfully lazy instrumentation. A song about dislocation and loss of identity, “Where I’m Anymore” is pure pop gold, with its easy string movements and sparkling guitar providing calming contrast to the nervous uncertainty and longing in the lyrics. Though to be fair, it almost sounds like a love song dedicated to the wonderfully strange living environment of Lytle’s native California, surprising considering his recent move to Montana and his double-barreled critique of the state’s rampant commercialism in Excerpts Of The Diary Of Todd Zilla.

Where Sumday sabotaged its own ambition by trying to have it both ways with arrangements that were both radio-friendly and just plain weird, Just Like the Fambly Cat does a simple about face and returns to traditional Lytle values. If you’ve been gazing at the skies or dumpster-diving behind computer stores looking for signs of a Sophtware Slump revival, Lytle rewards your patience with the beautifully contoured “The Animal World,” a wandering, space-pop epic laid on a waterbed of acoustic guitar strum and keyboard waves. A feast for the senses, “The Animal World,” with its shooting-star synthesizers and benign animal chattering, is a night under the stars that segues into the cheery instrumental sunrise “Skateboarding Saves Me Twice,” the closest Grandaddy has ever sounded to Daft Punk. Hiding in the bush, you’ll find the melancholic acoustic folk of “Summer…It’s Gone,” a song seemingly connected by an umbilical cord to Sophtware Slump, as is the vaporous “Guide Down Denied.”

Perhaps the most bi-polar record Grandaddy has ever made, Just Like the Fambly Cat lacks the cohesive flow of what is considered the band’s finest hour, the never-ending dreamscape that was the Sophtware Slump. Delicate piano plays with blistering, ADD guitar. Keyboards that sound hot-wired, over-driven and crunchy in a track like “Disconnecty” will decompress and sigh like all of heaven exhaling in “This Is How It Always Starts.” There’s room for infectious Casio-toned pop nuggets like “Elevate Myself,” a modern take on Ralph Waldo Emerson’s back-to-nature empowerment trip, and dying, incidental piano music and adorable children repeatedly asking, “What happened to the fambly (sic) cat?” until they’re drowned out by a meltdown coda.

“I don’t want to drift no more,” sings Lytle in “Guide Down Denied,” and it sounds like a mission statement. Freed from the pressures of running the Grandaddy franchise, Lytle may find happiness and serenity in the woods, and that could translate into more frequent recording activity from our favorite former skateboarder. Or, perhaps 20 years from now, we’ll see Lytle on the news in handcuffs, arrested for threatening corporate kingpins with anthrax-laced letters or releasing animals targeted for testing makeup or perfume products. Whatever the case, if this is Lytle’s last musical missive, he’s left us with a complete, if unfocused, dossier of his genius. (Review by P. Lindblad)