East River Pipe

What Are You On?

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Something's upset East River Pipe's sole proprietor, F.M. Cornog, and this time out it's not just himself. Where past albums like The Gasoline Age and Garbageheads on Endless Stun pondered the paths and tools of Cornog's own self-destruction (and subsequent rescue), What Are You On? points an accusatory finger at those heading toward the same fate. A cast of detestable characters inhabits the album and Cornog relates their tales like a nature documentarian -- observing, studying, recording, and narrating, but never interfering. If the baby sea turtle can't make it to the ocean, Cornog's not going to save it by picking it up and carrying it there. Likewise, the characters found on What Are You On? are free to make their wrong moves and bad decisions, no matter what the outcome. It's not malicious, it's just life, and the various self-absorptions and downward spirals are observed from the comfortable vantage point of an easy chair in front of the TV. On view are such personas as the pretentious literate-wannabe of "What Does T.S. Eliot Know About You?" ("What does T.S. Eliot know about you?/He knows nothing in particular/But you talk and talk as if he do"), the confirmed druggy bachelor of "Druglife" ("If it comes down to the drugs or you/Baby, we're through"), the well-adjusted pill popper of "What Are You On?" ("Better living through chemistry, she said"), and the sedentary non-dreamer of "Absolutely Nothing" ("What's in my head?/What's in my head?/Nothing") -- each one a shining example of how not to conduct your life. Cornog's musical approach remains wonderfully unchanged on this album. It's still all him -- and still all guitar, bass, drum machine, and cheap keyboard, coalescing into a unique and pleasing one-man pop ensemble that vacillates between gritty and ethereal. The production, too, displays Cornog's signature stamp -- delightfully understated and maximally effective, What Are You On? is certainly an outstanding effort (both lyrically and musically) in the world of indie pop. In the context of Cornog's own discography, this is right up there with his best and, given the exceptional quality of all his work, that is a high compliment indeed.

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