Friday Fun: My Top Ten 90s Songs, #4

#4: "This Time of Year" by Better than Ezra (off of Deluxe (1995))


Better than Ezra is the band that holds the record for the band I have seen the most times live.  Granted, I am not a huge live music person, so the record stands at three times.  Nevertheless, I saw them once in college, once in New Orleans in '06, and once in Philly some time in law school.  Every time I have seen them it has been in a small venue, and they have killed it.  No big rock show, nothing flashy or innovative, but three people playing music and talking with the audience.  It is a good time show in every sense of the word. 

What is interesting about the "good time" portion of that is that it is a little incongruous with what the band is best at, which is writing and playing ballads. It is hard to write ballads, and many bands fall into the trap of making them overly sappy, or cliched, or predictable musically ("here is where we break out the piano").  Better than Ezra avoids that trap--they have guitar ballads, up-tempo ballads, ballads about radio stations in New Orleans, ballads about seasons, and ballads about impromptu funerals.  

 In each of these different forms, Better than Ezra ballads communicate a certain kind of positivity, even if the subject of the song is very serious.  In this, they are kind of the anti-Nirvana--rather than feeling vaguely dissatisfied with life, you feel vaguely good about things after listening to a Better than Ezra song.  It's a good thing, too, because otherwise Better than Ezra's ballad-heavy content would be tough to take. 

I had a hard time picking which song to go with here, and it came down to one of three choices (links to the other two below).
 My initial choice was "Desperately Wanting" off of 1996's album Friction, Baby.  It's a good example of varying up the ballad formula, because this is basically a rock guitar ballad.  As far as I can tell, it is a song about an unnamed person who is suffering from some sort of mental illness (or maybe drug abuse), and the treatments have left him or her in a wounded state.  Pretty depressing, huh?  Except not really--there is an undercurrent of "hey, we can do this, we can beat this, let's do it together."  Again, this is the attraction of Better than Ezra--they acknowledge that things can suck, but there is always something positive to be found in the midst of the sucky-ness.

 My other thought was "Live Again" off of How Does Your Garden Grow from 1998.  Once again, a spin of the lyrics would reveal a very depressing song, about a co-dependent, dysfunctional relationship.  The singer has decided to stick with this person despite some unpleasant behavior.  It could be something very dark, but instead it comes across as hopeful and positive and affirming "I'm here, I'm not going anywhere, this is where I make my stand."  It's almost an empowerment song in a weird way, at least the way Kevin Griffin sings it.  And, at the end of the day, aren't we all a little co-dependent? 

 But, in the end, I decided to go with "This Time of Year."  I will go out on a limb--this is the best song ever written about the season of fall.  People write songs about summer all the time, and they write songs about spring, and they write songs about winter, but no one talks about the fall.  Which is too bad, because fall is clearly the best season.  Fall is a time of transition from one clear thing to another clear thing.  One minute you look and all the trees have their leaves; the next minute, they are all gone.  It is great but it happens so fast that you can easily miss it if you are not intentional about enjoying it.  Same with the new beginnings that come in the fall--new school year, new season if you like American football (or the other football in most parts of the world, now that I think about it).  They come and they are great but the newness will be gone soon and replaced with the drudgery of winter.  

 Somehow, this song captures the emotional resonance of all of that.  Listening to this song makes me feel the way fall feels, which is a strange but powerful alchemy.  It's a wistful song, but it is not a depressing song.  It makes you want to be sure to enjoy what you have, and not take it for granted.  Those are a pretty complex set of emotions, and Better than Ezra pulls them off in an otherwise very simple song.

Better than Ezra is not the best known 90s band, but they are a band that provides good, thoughtful songs, and five solid albums worth of them (stop at 2006's excellent Before the Robots, which is probably my favorite of their albums from start to finish).  It's worth your time to check them out.


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