Christopher Owens, the crooning, brooding, and delightfully disheveled and drug-addled frontman of Girls—a band whose four members are all men, naturally and ironically (naturally ironic?)—is possibly the most fantastically tragic yet unbelievably lucky person to have risen to the fringes of musical almost-fame in the last few years—save, of course, for Amy Winehouse, whose erratic public persona and unequivocal talent fed the music industry the manic intensity which it had been missing since 1994. Owens is a living testimony to the premise that terrible and unfortunate events are often the requisite catalysts for meaningful art.
Owens grew up in the Children of God/Family International cult with his peripatetic and often unstrung mother—who carried Owens across Asia and Europe on mission trips and prostituted herself—before escaping, at the age of sixteen, to the streets of Amarillo, Texas, where he drank and drugged to excess for nine years, and was discovered and adopted by a local millionaire and founder of the Cadillac Ranch who helped to inspire his creativity, all before finally moving to San Francisco where he befriended Chet JR White, with whom Owens would later organize Girls and ultimately record Album.
Unlike many bands, Girls studiously avoids the mistake of taking themselves too seriously. Owens understands that lyrical simplicity is sometimes more substantial in its honesty than is contrived complexity. He does not get so wrapped up in crafting intricate labyrinthine sequences of words—either for the sake of emotional depth and poignancy or for his own obfuscation—but ends up being profound all the same: “Oh, I wish I had a suntan/I wish I had a pizza and a bottle of wine,” sings Owens on “Lust for Life.” He is able to deal with loneliness and longing, while simultaneously mocking them, without sounding maudlin or depressing.
Most of the songs on Album are about girls. Owens is alternately love-struck and reveling in torrents of despair, but he is careful not to drown. The album’s mood ranges from exuberant to melancholy, channeling Roy Orbison and sometimes even Morrissey. Owens has been compared to Kurt Cobain, which is plausible, but only in his public personality and appearance, not in his music.
What is perhaps most compelling about Album is that it does not aim to be anything else. Too often bands attempt to rehash the work of earlier acts, the most mimicked musical era in recent memory being the 1980s, which was really a horrible decade for popular music—why anyone would consciously aspire to revive those years escapes me. The only unfortunate aspect of all this retreading of the past is that it can work as a deterrent to listeners’ discovering new talent. If audiences were to take more chances on music that’s being created now, and not what was happening thirty years ago, they could possibly prevent the atrocities of the past from becoming the future. Girls are in the present, making music that feels relevant.
“When people connect to it, it makes sense to me,” Owens says of his music in an interview for CityBeat. “That’s what I was hoping for.”