November 1998

Jay Aston - Unpopular Songs
Pink Gun Records PGCD 2
Released: 1998

by Bruce Bassett

Musical Performance ***
Recording Quality ***1/2
Overall Enjoyment ***1/2

[Reviewed on CD][excerpt from fictitious informercial]

Are you too popular? Tired of loved ones and friends hanging around? If this sounds like you, then try Jay Aston’s 'Unpopular Songs.' Sing along with such moribund lyrics as "Love keeps dragging me down," "You fill me with holes," and the unforgettable, "Who wants to burn in Hellfire?" Watch how quickly people disappear from your life. Guaranteed to make you unpopular in 12 bars or less, or your money back.

As you have already determined, Jay Aston’s Unpopular Songs is not a cheery collection of tunes. In fact, if depression had a soundtrack, this would probably be it. Aston, of Gene Loves Jezebel fame, even has a way of making normally happy major chords sound burdened.

What may not be as obvious yet is that I am duly impressed with the memorable melodies assembled here. The 11 tracks on Unpopular Songs are supported mainly by the acoustic-guitar work of Aston and James Stevenson. A minimalist approach to instrumentation is utilized and frames the solitude of despair of which Aston sings quite effectively. There is ample repetition of melodies and lyrics, making it very easy to get hooked on the tunes. Before the first song, "Love Keeps Dragging Me Down," had ended, I found myself singing along gleefully. Be careful, however, if you find yourself singing out loud, as I did; lyrics such as those on Unpopular Songs can generate odd looks from family members and cause whispers of concern about your mental health.

The acoustic guitars and the vocals are mated harmoniously in their sentiments, producing a "live" feel to the recording. Aston’s vocal style ranges from legato to that with a tinge of raspiness; from melodic prose to tuneful falsetto, with many variations in between. I admire his vocal approach because he sings each song as he sees fit. This lets the listener know clearly that Jay Aston is in charge of the artistic direction of Unpopular Songs and not some hot-shot producer seeking a plasticized Top 40 sound.

Of peripheral benefit is the fact that Unpopular Songs will make most people realize just how very good life is. If, however, you find yourself empathizing too much with some of the songs, you may want to try something a little less gloomy -- like Pink Floyd?