My social obligation is requiring my attention for just over an hour. Incessant watch-checking, and I’m back in high school math class, staring at the clock, watching the second hand ache and lurch in some elongated black-hole time trap. Okay Matt, don’t look at the clock. Resist the urge. Go back to doodling. Come on — that corner of your paper isn’t covered in graffiti. Just don’t. Look. At. The clock. It must have been 10 minutes. At least! I’ll guess seven. To be safe. Okay, have a looksee… Forty-five seconds?! I’m a mental claustrophobe, here, a social inmate. Sweet, sweet escape — it’s coming. Soon. I’ll get my mind back in some uninhibited fashion, like letting air out of a balloon.
It never gets old, the final bell releasing the prisoners from their cells, doors flung wide. Then, everyday like clockwork, comes an operating decision: What song will kick off my drive home?
I could go with a classic. Something huge — a bombastic sing-a-long. “Born to Run.” “Baba O’Reilly.” Something that towers the rock escapism. I could go with energy, a song that approximates my highway acceleration (which, unfortunately, I-264 keeps at a measly 55 mph). Something trashy — early punk? Husker Du, the Replacements, or Johnny Thunder — cagey youth that values power over substance. I could take a nostalgic trip, dive head-first into my first favorite songs, something from the likes of Value Pac or maybe “We are Tomorrow” from Bleach and take the gut-punch of feeling “Seventeen Again.”1
To accommodate all singular dimensions, I slide into my front seat and quickly roll to the Ls on my playlist. Something that fits a classic, nostalgic turn — aged but still breathing; high octane, with crunchy guitars and generous tempo; a little youth with a dab foresight — something thrilling, something fresh and novel through rediscovery.
Luxury’s The Latest and Greatest.
With the volume cranked on my car’s stereo, I say a quick “thank you” for the physical volume knob on the system, literally turning up the volume in a way that can’t be replicated by a mute-to-30-digital-volume display. Guitar. Drums. Cold night air and bliss.
Luxury is a complex band to me. My early neglect led to a rediscovery some 15 years later. In their initial active years, I failed to grasp Luxury as a worthy band. But even in this neglect, I always thought I should.
To explain: I tried — yes, truly tried — to absorb Luxury in the early 2000s, but had mostly forgotten about them until recently; I saw an online review praising their craft in a stumble-upon moment. They were always a band I thought I needed to like, but could never put in the same breath as MxPx, Joe Christmas, Danielson, Plankeye or Ghoti Hook — varied bands of numerous genres all but hawked as the pioneers of the alternative Christian scene. “I remember them. I have two of their albums on compact disc.”2 My CD collection was somewhat of a Noah’s Ark scenario. When I was around 12 years old, God called me to catalogue the Christian Alternative Scene by building — or buying — a large plastic display tower and running a personal Discman3 through my car’s tape deck. From here, I gathered one of every kind of CD (except for Five Iron Frenzy — my brother bought all of those) in the hopes of someday repopulating the earth with niche, righteous rock music.
My collection was once valued at over $2,000, which, given inflation, is more like half a mil for someone who worked at Taco Bell for his fortune. Over the course of many moves — first college, then to Virginia Beach from Michigan, then multiple residences with varying cargo dimensions — my Ark diminished from being a display piece (every album meticulously arranged and alphabetized) to sitting in a closet to me tossing all the plastic cases, saving the discs for a spindle, keeping the jacket inserts for future generations to one day pair again with their mates. (And repopulate the earth.) A quick search through the stacks, now disorganized like a giant box of Legos, and my entire Luxury collection rests on my lap. The scratches seem minimal; it plays. When I crank it up, these artifacts roar with ’90s rock vitality.
Luxury combined a sort of glam-meets-noise rock that hit big strides in anthems and equally prevalent and quirky ballads thanks to frontman Lee Bozeman’s nasal (but affecting) voice. Two albums — The Latest and the Greatest (1997) and Luxury (1999) — are evenly split between fuzzed-out rock, noisy but rooted in pop (“The Latest and the Greatest”) and genteel, sometimes middling, sparse, crooning numbers (“I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings”). A couple things strike me when I relistened: how good the songs are, and how soaring the rock elements are. (This further mystifies why they couldn’t hold my teenage interest.) Equally, it surprises me how much of the tunes come back. For records that seemed to slip past me, they sure left enough of a mark to recall nearly every melody across both albums. There is a bipolar element to the albums, and, personally, I find the rock and roll far more effective and suited to Bozeman and Co. than the more introspective stuff.
This is some of the best production I recall from any record of the era. It may align precisely on my bias, but the thing that strikes me is balance — there’s an edge, a grit to the tunes. The guitars aren’t just distorted, they’re Cobained from crunchy-and-safe to powerful-and-raw. Make no mistake, Luxury is a pop band in structure and execution, maintaining melody and inventiveness, but the sounds combine into an aural soufflé that has perfectly risen. Opener “When Those That Are Not Do Become Those That Are” threatens to teeter too far into grimy, garage inaccessibility (and at five-minutes, might be bloated), while two tracks later, “Perpetua Simone” threatens to pop under the weight of its own bubble-gum hooks. Ultimately, the canoe stays afloat despite the dangerous, flirtatious dance, and the songs all sound like they belong on the same disc. Even the lyrics — at times biting, satirical, or other times intimate prayers — brace themselves against and between social commentary and personal introspection. It does wear you out; by the time you hit tracks “King Me” or “The Lacklustre,” the albums lose some wind in their sails. This could easily be a tracklisting issue, as tunes are grouped to rise early and roll off in excitement across the runtime, but really, the 6:33 “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” should have been written to be half as long, easy.
No worries, though; the album restarts, the springs reload, and between these two albums, there’s plenty to celebrate, return to and — with the smart songwriting and lyricism — chew on, even as they dovetail into self-importance.
The CD era of the ’90s was the age of overpriced, bloated albums, right before the Myspace revolution ushered in the age of the digital single and the subsequent decline of the record label. Besides holding my coming of age, this era made music digestion, in comparison, difficult. It was costly, cumbersome and you actually had to wait for release dates (!). Even then, you’d have drive to a brick-and-mortar store. The process led to added value — certainly in a physical product — but in effort, too. If an album was discarded, it wasn’t without proper evaluation.
Luxury holds some of the best of their era — and any era. I got vaccinated with Luxury 15 years ago, and their strain of music has been gestating under the surface all this time, mounting into a super infection. Tonight, for Luxury (what an apt name!), they can happily soundtrack my ascent into introverted sentience.
Few things sound as good at 62 miles per hour. Or 15 years later.
- “Seventeen Again” is a fantasy–comedy film. It first aired on Showtime on November 12, 2000, and was released on DVD on April 9, 2002. The film stars “Sister Sister’s” Tia and Tamera, as well as their brother, Tahj Mowry from “Smart Guy.”
- Compact discs are the companions to floppy disks, except they play music and are less pliable.
- “Discman” is a 1990 feature film starring Kevin Costner as a radio DJ who makes a Major League Baseball team as a walk-on long shot.