At first glance, Rob Crow seems to be a likable enough guy. He's got a great voice and a disarmingly schlubby appearance. On the artwork of his most recent solo release, Living Well, Crow is pictured with his new bride and even newer baby in a tableau of indie-rock domestic bliss. The press release for his latest even states that "the intensely personal lyrics document Crow's courtship with his wife, their marriage, and the subsequent birth of their first child." He's a geek of the highest order; his popular band, Pinback, is named after a character from John Carpenter's sci-fi comedy Dark Star, and on the song "Jedi Outcast," he sings, "Remember Yoda!/And what he said/'There is no try/ There is only do.'"
Well, despite all of these endearing qualities, it seems that someone out there doesn't think that Crow is such a mensch. On Living Well, there are not one but two versions of a song entitled "I Hate Rob Crow" -- an album and a single version, naturally. The song is pleasant enough, and the blandly cryptic lyrics (a Crow staple) -- "Wanted to be/Some kind of mess/The pain of it all/And not too impressed" -- don't offer any clues to what could have inspired such vitriol. No help comes from the song's goofy video, which features Crow stumbling into an operating room and singing into a microphone attached to an intestine. Reportedly, the title came from a "particularly unpleasant roommate Crow had earlier in his life," though Crow himself declines to comment on the
Despite his new family, Crow remains the tortured artist. When asked if it was harder finding inspiration after settling down, he tersely replies, "I'm never satisfied." Crow is a staunch vegan and an avid comic-book collector, and he exemplifies the more unsavory personality traits that both of those stereotypes confer. He is known to be sanctimonious and more demanding on contract riders than an artist with 10 times the star power. Though an indie-rock vet, he was more than happy to lend his sweet voice to a Clorox commercial, and Pinback contributed a lackadaisical cover of Black Flag's "Wasted" to the cred-sapping compilation Music from the OC: Mix 6: Covering Our Tracks.
Surely, though, the guy who titled a Goblin Cock release Bagged and Boarded (a comic-book term) must have a hell of a funny bone. Again, no. The humor with Goblin Cock, his heavy-metal outlet, ended with the name and the song titles. Some of the more refined fans might claim that the humor never even began. In a fit of literal-mindedness, the not-ready-for-big-box-store-display artwork for Bagged and Boarded depicted the ridiculously large member of some underworld demon. Though Goblin Cock did, indeed, set off false metal alarms for the genre's purists, Crow claims, "It's not jokey. I'm just doing the band I want to see."
On Living Well, Crow is still flying his geek flag, though not in a silly way. He titles one song "Liefeld," after an oft-derided comic-book artist named Rob Liefeld, whose popularity peaked in the '90s. Crow joins the chorus of Liefeld detractors, and the lyrics seem to be a critique of Liefeld's drawing style and his trademark anatomical inconsistencies -- "I know it's strange, their eyes don't match."
Crow's sparkling personality aside, the short, melodic songs on Living Well are enough to sate fans of Pinback until the duo releases its next record. Crow handles everything on the record -- from playing to recording to producing. He compensates for his lack of rhythmic prowess by crafting complicated XTC-esque melodies with his guitar ("Over Your Heart"). Overall, Living Well is a tuneful, pretty bore. The trick, then, is how to translate the low-key home-recorded solipsism of the songs on the album into ones played by a full band in a live setting. So far, Crow seems happy with the results.
"The tour is going really well," Crow says. "To the point where I wish I could record some of it over again with this band."
While the band may be gelling on tour, the pressures of what Bob Seger chronicled in "Turn the Page" may be getting to Crow. When asked about balancing family life with life on the road, he replies, "Well, right now I'm just trying to finish this interview so I can spend some time with my family who came to visit me in New York for a couple of days between shows. It can be stressful."
Perhaps the doughy malcontent isn't living as well as it might seem.