Blue October: History for Sale (Rainmaker)

If the band’s first two discs were breathtakingly talented, History for Sale is nothing short of a masterpiece, as close to perfect as an admittedly imperfect man like Justin Furstenfeld can get.

“The rain always brings our heroes.”
Leave it to Justin Furstenfeld to write the nontraditional love song. From his lyrics, you quickly understand him to be a man who’s seen despair and self-destruction, who continues to battle his demons—yet who rejoices in the sunshine, the beauty of life.

With Blue October’s History for Sale, Furstenfeld gives us just that: a glimpse into his past, into the depths of his memories, for the price of a CD—and he’s selling himself short at that. History is the Texas quintet’s third album, their first since the underpromoted effort at Universal, 2001’s Consent to Treatment. And there’s so much to this disc: even aside from the tough, poetic lyrics—more than worth the price of admission alone, in my book—there’s a tremendous pop sensibility, a flow between 12 songs that will burrow into your heart and take up residence. Lush instrumentation abounds, as well, aided by C.B. Hudson’s carefully plucked guitar and Ryan Delahoussaye’s polished and piercing stringwork.

“So now we’ve come upon the hardest thing I’ve ever done/It’s telling you that I’m a mess/what sort of mess I mean is self-destructive gasoline.”

Opening the disc is “Ugly Side,” a beautiful, string-drenched love song in which Furstenfeld yearns to show his betrothed only his good side. His voice is absolutely dreamy as he croons, “I’m in between the moon and where you are.” “Clumsy Card House” is backed by light, playful guitar and drums (the latter courtesy of Justin’s younger brother, Jeremy; incidentally, the CD booklet is littered with photos of the Furstenfelds as children—truly, history for sale). This song truly highlights Furstenfeld’s range and command of his voice; his voice truly soars as he admits, “Here I am standing up/to say I want to fall in love…” “Calling You” is another delicate song of love, a single ready to happen with its singalong-ability: “I will keep calling you to see/If you’re sleeping or you’re dreaming/If you’re dreaming, are you dreaming of me?”

“How am I supposed to breathe?/I try to relax. I touch your still frame./So I can watch you closer/And study the ways I believe I belong to you.”

Mandolin, strings, and a soft beat define “A Quiet Mind,” as Furstenfeld shows his hand and his heart’s desires. “Still hearing voices…from front…from behind/They’re the reason I choose…when to live…how to die,” he admits, wanting only to quiet those voices and still his mind. Blink and you’ll miss “3 Weeks, She Sleeps,” a gorgeous duet with Furstenfeld singing lead and Delahoussaye background; the strings start slow and then swell, adding simple Irish influence to the song.

“If you fail, at least you tried/to keep your aching, celebrating, wonder making heart alive.”

“Inner Glow” is Furstenfeld’s credo: it’s him embracing life, affirming his individuality and the importance of us each singing our own song. You’ll be singing along by the end: “Yeah, we only want to sing when we want to./Yeah, we only want a dream we can flaunt to./Yeah, we only want to fly by the side, making love to the rhythm, be a Jeckyl and a Hyde.” “Come in Closer,” while a beautiful song in and of itself, is the one that just doesn’t seem to fit; there’s too much soul, too much pop. Still, it succeeds in showing the diversity and skill of Blue October, as Furstenfeld’s dreamy, screamy voice somehow fills with soul, backed by the smooth vocals of Zayra.

“A brief bout with a razorblade cut me/I freaked out, thinking people didn’t love me/I watched closely as the you I knew forgot me.”

As fully as Furstenfeld embraces his vulnerability to love and life, he just as completely shows us his ugly side, as on “Razorblade.” As it should be, the music is harsher, louder, more in-your-face along with the message; sounds of struggle climax at the end with Furstenfeld’s shouts. On “Chameleon Boy,” the message is one of internal struggle; Delahoussaye’s violin weeps softly as Furstenfeld meekly asks for help as he laments his ever-changing façade: “Is this the chameleon boy I swore I wouldn’t become?” The next song, “Sexual Powertrip,” is just that: an admission of becoming a monster to get what he wants. “Don’t trust my words when I’m in bed with you,” Furstenfeld warns. “Yeah, you opened your legs and maybe I promised you…/You didn’t notice that my ankles were crossed.” “Somebody” is pure retribution, as Furstenfeld vents his anger against undeserving authority.

“Can you pretend I’m amazing?/I can pretend I’m amazing…/Instead of what we both know.”

The most painfully beautiful song is saved for last. It opens with a bleak, simple guitar and Furstenfeld asking in disbelief, “How am I supposed to breathe?” As he does on so many other tracks, Furstenfeld backs himself vocally; because of “Amazing”’s sparseness, it’s stronger on this song, somehow making it seem even more isolated.

“You can’t know…yet you have to know.”

Don’t misunderstand; truly, Justin Furstenfeld is the defining force in Blue October, with his intensely personal and opinionated lyrics and his beautiful voice, alternating between the stuff that dreams are made on and all that goes into your nightmares. But the rest of the band are accomplished musicians and songwriters, as well, and they play with a cohesion and a passion that is too often lacking in other groups. If the band’s first two discs were breathtakingly talented, History for Sale is nothing short of a masterpiece, as close to perfect as an admittedly imperfect man like Justin Furstenfeld can get.

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