Michael Merenda,
Election Day
(Humble Abode, 2004)

It's not clear from the slow, organ-fed notes of the title song, but Michael Merenda's Election Day is a gamble. It's a political album, but one that focuses on social concepts more than immediate politics. It's a musically experimental album that borrows from folk, pop, rock, electronica and gospel for its sound. It's a singer-songwriter performance that dares comparison to Bob Dylan with its casual storytelling rambles, and risks serious cliches by taking on topics like God and marijuana use. The odds of making that combination work make the lottery seem like a wise investment plan.

But Michael Merenda won the bet. Against the odds, against any sense, Election Day is fun, thought-provoking and musically interesting. The key is Merenda's ability to see beyond the obvious connotations of subject. "Bored" focuses on one of the most common emotions, but rather than reflecting lethargy it calls up the repetitive racing of a mind too caught in daily demands to find anything interesting. "I'm God" is a monologue by God in a bar, a cheap joke waiting to happen, but Merenda manages to humanize the Almighty, slide in a commentary on human destructiveness and religion, and coat it with humor and catchy music until the medicine slides in almost unnoticed.

Not that there's much heavy dogma on Election Day. "Independence Hall" tells an ironic story of the drug war, with a defiant pot smoker taking on the role of hero. It's a clever way to examine the subject, but the one sided nobility of the pot-smoking star is a bit hard to swallow. At least, it is until the ska-laced declaration of "She Smokes Pot," a mindlessly fun tune with lyrics that capture the essentially repetitive, mindless fun of drug use.

There's more to Election Day than humor. "Dekalb Avenue Dream" has enough poetry to redeem any five lesser albums, all used on one strange love song. "Tahoe," a brief vignette of a morning after a party, floats into the freeform, stream-of-consciousness poetry that singer-songwriters have been fighting to achieve since the 1960s. There's plenty of solid songwriting, and the serious pieces alone make a perfectly decent album. But Merenda's ability to find humor in charged topics without sacrificing his own viewpoint makes the album remarkable.

by Sarah Meador
3 December 2005

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