Blue October’s “Any Man In America”

Hailing from Houston, TX, this alt-rock band is one of my favorite bands to listen too when I’m feeling down or in a bad mood. This might sound like an odd statement, but if you’ve ever heard Blue October’s music you know why. In 2006, they released their 4th studio album called “Foiled” and it is a classic. So many great songs but the biggest was the hit, “Hate Me” which made a splash on the alt-rock charts, getting as high as #2. Following an album that is so great is always a test and I felt that their follow-up, “Approaching Normal” was, by comparison, nowhere near as good.

Then came this album.

I’ve read several reviews of “Any Man In America” and some find it to be an honest yet harsh epic. Others have said its a regression from where they were once headed. I stand somewhere in between. I can see both sides of the reviews but I have to tell you, not since Bruce Springsteen’s “The Rising,” which was based entirely on the Boss’ feelings about 9/11, have I heard an album as centered on one situation as this. “Any Man” is essentially a breakup album. And not just about breakup but about the entire process of a relationship completely falling apart.

If you are a person who has ever been through a hard relationship, a divorce or separation, you will find something in here for you. Lead singer Justin Furstenfeld is the man behind the writing on this album, tracing his relationship with his ex-wife and the custody battle he had to go through to be with his daughter, Bluebell. And it is pretty much a step-by-step process as Furstenfeld takes us through the process from the beginning to the end. It’s not always fun listening, as you can tell by some of the song titles (“Drama Everything”, “The Getting Over It”, “The Worry List”), but every song has a hook and almost every song is worth repeated listenings.

The album begins with a short soundbite of a phone call from Furstenfeld’s ex-wife. And that pretty much sets the tone for the first track “The Feel Again (Stay)”. With lyrics that suggest uncertainty and frailty in the relationship, Furstenfeld sings starkly about wanting the relationship to go on even though things have obviously started to fall apart. Furstenfeld, who has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, has often written about his life and has said that writing has helped him through some of his most difficult times. At one point in his life, he was admitted to a mental institution due to his illness, but he has since said that he is no longer a danger to himself anymore. While listening to this album, you have to hope that this is truth because there is a lot of anger on this album. Following “The Feel Again (Stay)” is “The Money Tree,” where he sings about the fact that he has paid off all of his ex’s bills singing…

With two houses, both cars,
I paid off your fucking credit card debt,
Did you already forget? Huh?
You threaten, threaten, threaten, threaten, threaten, huh
Just fucking leave,
Find a man who will put up with this

We both know who we are
And I’m not changing a thing,
I’ve never changed before
If lovin’ me is workin’ or a job to take
I think we’re headin’ for the crazy-making heartbreak

He cries for support from her and understands that his job has taken him away and caused a split in their relationship. It’s these kinds of lyrics that make this album such an interesting listen. And if you’ve ever been in a harsh relationship, you can understand the depth of the lyrics in all of these songs.

As you can imagine, the rest of the album follows the breakup timeline from there and with each track, Furstenfeld delves deeper and deeper into the dark side of their breakup. Like I said, this isn’t a “Feel Good” album at all so for many, it might come as a downer but I argue that something like this is almost therapeutic for those of us who HAVE had rocky relationships. In a twisted way, it’s good to know that we are not alone and the title of the album hints that this could happen to any one of us.

On the title track song, “Any Man In America,” Furstenfeld sings…

Like you don’t know.
You act like you believe it.
That you’re in control.
It’s just your legal system though
They don’t think about you
No they don’t care about you.
Now every man in America take back your control.

This kind of lyric permeates the entire song as Furstenfeld tells how the courts have taken his daughter from him and goes into a step by step account of the situation. Most of this song (except for the refrain above) is spoken and I’ve read some reviews that say this is almost sacrilege but I disagree. I find it to be very effective and I don’t know if I would call this a “song” per se because it’s actually more of a dialogue. It’s like he’s having a conversation with me. He’s angry and despondent and he is telling his story. He swears and screams and basically goes through so many emotional waves that this is easily the most autobiographical track on the album and when he wraps it up by saying “Any other man in American can get screwed just like me,” you know he’s not kidding. At the end of the song, an unknown rapper recites the most biting lyrics and I’m not sure why Furstenfeld chose to do that, but it’s effective and takes Blue October into an entirely different direction.

My personal favorite track on the album is the final song called “The Follow Through.” This is the most hopeful track on here and, as you can imagine, leaves you with the feeling that whatever war Furstenfeld and his ex are in, they will make amends in some way and find a way to raise their daughter in an amicable manner.

And everything I ever want to be
The only one I ever need to know
I’d wait for you till time lay down to sleep
And I’d sneak across the world to let her know

And as it falls down into night we run away
And once again divided
But each one knows just what we have to do
We do
We have to…follow through

Hold my heart
Patiently
Take my hand
Walk with me
Cause when the evening comes
We’ll set the world on fire
And I was wrong
Let me help you live on

There are so many reasons to listen to this album in its entirety from start to finish but the thing I like about it is you don’t have to. As heavy as the material is, I don’t consider this to be any different than an album from artists such as Eminem or Bruce Springsteen. This is an album that is grounded in reality and the reality of it is that sometimes relationships crash & burn. How we handle it individually is up to us, but in listening to “Any Man In America,” you get the sense that this is how one man took the pain and made it his own, creatively using his gift as an outlet. And as far as I’m concerned, this is a classic album from a band that has found its niche. It’s not for everyone but it definitely serves a purpose and that makes this a “Must Listen” for anyone who likes alternative rock with a sharp psychological edge.

If you’re looking to download certain tracks, “The Chills” is the hot song right now but I would also recommend “The Follow Through,” “Drama Everything” and “The Honesty.”

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