It was in the early 2000s—a time where some bands still weren’t completely pasted all over the Internet—that one of my best friends went to see Pinback for the first time. He was obsessed. He had every track he could get his hands on, but he’d only known them from listening to burned, coverless CD-Rs; there weren’t websites like MySpace or Facebook, and popular magazines weren’t covering the band. To him, the members of Pinback were as faceless as Gorillaz or KISS in the ‘70s.
He’s looking around the venue before the show, but he couldn’t have ever guessed the guy that seemed the most out of place—the bearded dude wearing some death-metal band’s t-shirt and huge cargo shorts—was Rob Crow, who would be playing lead guitar and singing for Pinback that night. It’s the same reason Crow can be easy to misunderstand or dismiss.
Crow’s a guy whose passion for music is obvious in his approach. He’s got no problem writing insanely catchy hits (Pinback’s “Penelope”), but it gets tricky defining him when his output can be so scattered. As any of the Pinback frontman’s dedicated fans will tell you, the guy’s got his hands in a million projects. And although Crow’s seen the most success with Pinback, a lot of his claim to fame is all the other groups he’s played with: Goblin Cock, Heavy Vegetable, Physics, Optiganally Yours, Team Sleep and Thingy all lie on that list.
It’s simple enough to get lost in all of this stuff—Crow’s metal-guy aesthetic, his body of work, his onstage beer-chugging tendency—and that’s why Crow doesn’t get the attention he deserves as a songwriter or arranger. Sure, at first glance, he’s a metal dude with a sense of humor (His newest album, He Thinks He’s People, seems to be a Simpsons nod), but his real gift isn’t rooted in heavy music (see: Goblin Cock). Crow’s real craft is in pop songs.
It’s all clear on He Thinks He’s People. Crow’s latest album never strays too far from songs on Pinback’s last full-length release, Autumn of the Seraphs or his last solo album, Living Well—they’re still the same dense, layered songs that slur bass and guitar parts together. But who says a departure from that sound would be a good thing? With He Thinks He’s People, Crow is adding good songs to an already respectable catalog.
Take for example “Scalped,” a song that’s already taking cues from Pinback in its “Sender”-esque keyboard intro. But Crow finds a way to make that all secondary by layering and cutting intertwined parts until his voice is the center of attention, turning “Scalped” into a surprisingly brooding, emotional track.
“Prepare To Be Mined” catches the listener off guard quick with its winding, clean guitar progressions that lead into playful math-rock breaks. But it isn’t until the last third of the album when Crow really establishes a groove. Tracks eight, nine and 10 all fade into each other, establishing a momentum that peaks with the funky synth in “Locking Seth Putnam in Hot Topic” and settling down with the acoustic-heavy album closer “Purpose.”
The fact is, People is a consistent album filled with great songs that are no doubt written by Crow himself. If Crow’s past catalog hasn’t stirred up major waves in the past, People probably won’t change that. But it is a set of songs that are welcome additions that Crow and Pinback fans will appreciate.