Josh Rouse Must Be Stopped

“It’s exactly the same,” he says with perfect confidence. “Why would we change anything?” — Rolling Stone

Mellow soulless pop has a new name to add to its limitless ledger. If my predictions are correct, within eighteen months, Josh Rouse will smear every Pottery Barn bedroom with his treacly ballads (too many of which reference a television blaring in the background) and have every tone-deaf yuppie tapping their toes to Rouse’s distinctive vacuity. Bad enough that there’s barely any edge to this guy. Try seeing this guy live.

On the basis of critical praise, a handful of low-key tracks, a reported “influence by the Cure and the Smiths,” and accidentally getting Rouse mixed up with somebody else, I scored nonrefundable tickets for the MSS and me. This was all part of a strange plan that involved seeing five live shows in two weeks.

But as I listened to Rouse’s catalog to prep myself for the concert, I realized that I had made a colossal mistake.

Consider Rouse’s latest album, Nashville. The lyrics and title of “Winter in the Hamptons” might mean something if you have expendable income. But its ba-ba-bas and its throwaway arpeggios make it an endurance test for anyone who enjoys being tousled around a tad. “Middle School Frown” is poetic only if you consider repetitive assaults on the counterculture and banal memories of 1983 the mark of a genius.

Rouse has no stage presence to speak of. He performs his songs exactly as they sound on his albums, which is a piss-poor reason to see anybody live. During one moment, he tried to get the audience to bray along with him, but only succeeded in drawing up a whispery and uninvolved response. And these were fans of his music, no less. In fact, Rouse is so rigid and formulaic that he’s even outlined the stage plot on his site. Presumably to aid some real estate broker in the Marina talking about her concertgoing experience the next morning, so she’ll have something to refer to just before she heads off to the cafe and orders an overpriced cafe au lait.

Rouse’s music was so soporific that I was grateful to be awakened by the sound of a motorcycle outside. Thank goodness the Fiery Furnaces are coming into town next week. After experiencing this dull singer live, I almost want to get into a bloody brawl just to remind myself that life is more than whining about some girl you didn’t have the guts to ask out.

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  1. Is this the guy I see on PBS (as I am surfing for some NASCAR event) tentatively holding the microphone with a cryonic dull serious expression bleating out what he would have you believe was some emotionally wrenching (it’s his anesthetized expression that’s the tip off)gem against a bombastic orchestral score not worthy of even the paradigm of Wagnerian pop, MacArthur Park?


  2. Oh, Ed, forget the literary importance of that essay by the Sex and the City writer. It was a great dish on what happens when your good friends’ book outsells yours 100 to 1. Fantasy and competition are a part of the writing life, don’t forget!

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