Blue October, Any Man in America
When listening to a Blue October album for the first time, I always like to get a feel as to what exactly the emotional state of Justin Furstenfeld is, so as to see how the songs reflected will sound. The majority of Blue October’s music has been a vast array of styles (all pleasing to me) coupled with lyrics that deal primarily with mental health issues and the failed relationships that come as a result of that. I actually really do enjoy the lyrical quality and personal nature of the songs, so to listen to Blue October is always a relatable treat for me.
The album before this one, Approaching Normal, was slightly different, as the title suggests, because it seemed to be more about lead singer Justin Furstenfeld getting better and moving on from writing songs like “HRSA,” which basically details his stay in a mental hospital (pretty accurately, as well, but can some Gojo get a shout-out?). Approaching Normal is actually one of the most lyrically grounded albums from Blue October, as the first three songs really have that crazy anger thrown into them, but after that it becomes much more calm and peaceful-seeming.
I had somewhat thought — and feared — in the back of my mind that this would make the next Blue October album somewhat normal. Now, no album is really “normal,” per se, as most musicians have things that they have to deal with, and singing about them is the only way that they know how—or maybe just the best way. But Blue October’s music has never been “normal,” as it has always been seemingly a step above that where the lyrics just pour out like he would only confide to his closest of friends (i.e., a very small, select group, not anyone who could listen to the album, which realistically just about anyone could, should they have the means).
I was wrong. Any Man in America is anything but normal and it’s anything but a step down for Blue October. While I love songs about mental health issues (what can I say? I can easily relate to them), I love this album so much more, and it’s quite possibly the finest piece of music — lyrically and musically — that Blue October have ever made.
Now, if you’re familiar with Blue October, I don’t need to tell you about how their music sounds. If you’ve never heard Blue October before, you probably want to start at the beginning anyway, not with their newest album. Email me, we can talk about it, and I can guide you through a rather spiritual journey. For those familiar with Blue October (and even for those not, since I’m moving on with or without you), you know that the music is the second part of their songs.
Blue October are this group of musicians that seem like they can play any style at any given time, and they can do so quite well. You don’t know exactly what you’re going to get musically from them with each album, but you can at least know that you are in very capable hands. If I was to ever host some sort of improv show where people needed to be able to sing any style of music at any given time, I would want Blue October as the band to play along with them. As musicians, they are just simply that good. This album is no exception to that, and somehow they’ve managed to transition to a hip-hop song (don’t worry, fellow Blue Meanies, Justin does not rap himself), which isn’t all too weird considering they had a sort of techno song back on Foiled. Really, having a straight-up country song on their album wouldn’t even surprise me at this point.
Anyone familiar with Blue October knows that you are in this experience for the lyrics more than the music itself — though as not to take anything away from the quality of the music. Blue October has been to music and the life of Justin Furstenfeld what a reality television show was to the late Anna Nicole Smith. You’re not tuning into this new album to see what new styles of music the band explores, so much as to see the latest developments in this crazy rock star life of Justin Furstenfeld.
At first glance, I came to the very simple (and incorrect) conclusion that this album was simply about Justin Furstenfeld not wanting his wife back, but rather moving on from it. This album, I thought incorrectly, was his sort of kiss-off, if you will. He was tired of singing songs to the effect of “I’m sorry, please take me back,” and now he has more songs along the lines of “Fuck you, I’m through with you.”
What this album is really about (and it’s laid out fairly well for the listener, several times) is Justin Furstenfeld’s daughter, Blue, and her mother, who is now his ex-wife and just all of the things surrounding the custody battle of it all. This comes out in such lines as, “I had to be the sole provider, not allowed to be the dad.”
Now, let’s look at this as an unbiased third party. I don’t know anything about Justin Furstenfeld’s ex-wife, nor do I probably want to know anything about her. But just from his music, we know that Justin Furstenfeld is A) someone who suffers from mental illness, which makes him unpredictable, and B) in a rock band that goes on tour quite often. This means, in the eyes of most legal systems, that he is a threat to himself and possibly others and also not going to be around a lot.
Does having mental health issues make you unfit as a parent? Definitely not. Does being in a band make you unfit for parenthood? Absolutely not. But I can only imagine those are two of the strongest principles that the custody battle was based on. No one probably bothered to consider that Justin Furstenfeld wasn’t home because he was out making money to support his family, or at least his daughter.
But don’t take my word for it. Justin Furstenfeld details these and many more monetary issues in the songs himself. He points out everything from paying his ex-wife’s credit card debt to having a college fund set up for his daughter from the money he made when “Hate Me” became a hit.
The songs get more personal than money, though. Before the song “The Flight (Lincoln to Minneapolis),” we get a pretty detailed voicemail between Justin Furstenfeld and his ex-wife where basically she says he’s “failed miserably” and she feels that they’d both be better off without him. Way to make choices for your kid, honey.
What’s going to happen when Blue grows up and sees that her dad was just doing what he thought was best for her, but Mommy kept him away? Does Mom really think she can hide father from daughter in one of those old stories like, “Oh, he died a war hero,” when his songs are on the radio? People are going to know who Blue is, no matter where she goes or even if she has her name changed. The Internet is forever, dude.
The title track has the great line “Any other man in America can get screwed just like me,” which as a parent makes me sort of worried, since it seems like courts really do favor mothers over fathers. The title track also has a great part in it where Justin Furstenfeld breaks down and says he’s not a book, so he starts saying fuck everyone but naming them one by one. It’s still a bit unexpected every time I hear it, but it also still gives me goosebumps because you just feel the raw emotion but it is no way being expressed the way a band such as Deftones, for example, would scream about it.
In “The Worry List,” which is the second-to-last track, Justin Furstenfeld not only repeatedly reminds us that this album and everything in general is for his daughter, but he also says, “I might have been gone but I never walked out.” It’s a nice line, as there are so many deadbeat dads in this world, yet here we have someone trying to make things right, and even though he may hate his ex-wife, he still seems to very much love his daughter and wants more than just weekend visitation rights with her.
Any Man in America is a very compelling argument in favor of why he should be able to see his daughter whenever he pleases, and I would really like to know what his ex-wife has on her side that’s keeping the family apart. Next season, perhaps?