Justin Furstenfeld's battles with his band's former label were numerous and nasty. Prior to the release of Consent to Treatment in 2000, the suits at Universal suggested that Blue October get rid of its signature violin. Furstenfeld knew then he was in a no-win situation, and the band was dropped not long thereafter.
A few seconds into "Ugly Side," the lead-off track of the band's new album, a swash of violin drifts across the midi drum beats. He may just as well have sung: "Listen, Mr. Record Man, the fucking violin is gonna stay "
Settling scores aside, the song is representative of the kind of lush, Peter Gabriel-style orchestration and musicianship prevalent on most of the 12 tracks on History For Sale. And even without a major-label deal, the band has recently been inked by Monterrey Peninsula, the booking agent for Dave Matthews. Considering the similarities in musical style and the fervent way Furstenfeld delivers his manic gospel, it figures that fans of prognosticator-rock bands like Matthews will go for Blue October, too.
Nearly two years in the making, much of History For Sale springs from Furstenfeld's own brand of intense, gut-churning self-examination. Furstenfeld's anxiety-racked world is not for the squeamish. His self-described "bi-polar bop" is full on in "Sexual Powertrip (One Big Lie)," in which he screams about how he keeps fucking things up. And his vitriolic ranting peaks in the furious, syncopated "Razorblade," in which he describes a religious figure as a "sick fuck," and snarls, "Because it is you that I remember in their bedroom / It is you that took their first away from them / It is you they set their standards to you wounded them for life / You were a preacher and suppose to be above men."
Even on this personal and societal angst-ridden voyage, Furstenfeld is not completely adrift from pop culture. In "Somebody," there is a clear nod to the burgeoning nü-metal scene that has commercial rock radio in a death grip. While Furstenfeld spins the familiar tale of woe about someone who was kicked down but is risen again, the down-tuned guitars grind away while the violin plays some tonal counterpoint. Considering the source, it's a hell of a lot more convincing than some 25-year-old millionaire's hit single about a chick who stood him up at the prom.
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The middle third of the record lags, most notably on "Chameleon Boy" and "A Quiet Mind." The arrangements begin to follow the Love Songs 101 textbook, resembling the mushy blend of stuff already on pop radio, but maybe they're just trying to catch the ear of the major labels' cowardly A&R people. Still, History For Sale takes only a couple of (perhaps calculated) missteps along a well-chosen path.