Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Certain Songs #1142: Mike Doughty – “No Peace, Los Angeles” | Medialoper

Album: The Skittish Sessions
Year: 2000

On the short list of Prettiest Songs Ever Written: Scoring Drugs in Los Angeles Department, “No Peace, Los Angeles” is a song with a helluva backstory.

Mike Doughty was the famously unhappy lead singer in a 1990s band called Soul Coughing, who kinda worked the same territory as Beck, and put out three records — 1994’s stone classic Ruby Vroom is the one to get — before calling it quits before the end of the decade.

In July of 1996, Doughty recorded a bunch of songs with famed indie producer Kramer, going for a leaner spare sound as compared to Soul Coughing’s kitchen sink approach, but his record company didn’t like them, so that was the end of that.

But, of course, it wasn’t. At some point during the Napster era, the songs leaked as The Skittish Sessions, and Soul Coughing fans snapped it up much the same way the Whiskeytown fans grabbed Pneumonia.

And why not? Whereas Soul Coughing songs always seemed to maintain an ironic distance, the songs from The Skittish Sessions — later officially reissued in 2004 — were more, well, soulful. On songs like the angry “All The Dirt,” the echoing “Looks” and even his covers mash-up of Mary J. Blige’s “Real Love” and the Feelies’ “It’s Only Life”, Doughty is coming from a true and real place.

And the masterpiece is “No Peace, Los Angeles,” the sequel to his greatest Soul Coughing song, “Screenwriter’s Blues,” a sarcastic, scathing take on Los Angeles, a city that he observes “loves love,” and can also corrupt the soul.

“No Peace, Los Angeles” is look at one of those corrupted souls — maybe even the radioman from “Screenwriters Blues,” and his corrupution is in the form of drugs, and you can hear it in the twisted opening fanfare of strings which opens the song.

Ice cracking, fickle junkie
Your girl calls
Where have you been last night?
Lover boy, where you been hiding?
No peace, Los Angeles
No peace, Los Angeles

This is sung over a ringing acoustic guitar and a wandering organ, completely unrooted, and also completely sad, like someone wandering the streets looking for their next fix in an unfriendly setting.

Coming down, Wilshire Boulevard
Blurry stream of light
Radio, road sign and you are more awake
Than is possible
No peace, Los Angeles
No peace, Los Angeles

The way Doughty sings this song is sublime, especially his pronunciations of “Will-Shire Boulevard,” “RAY-dee-oo” and the rhyming of “peace” and “Angeles,” and it adds an extra weight to an already weighty — and totally beautiful — song.

And that beauty is how he gets away singing “Do this for the remembrance of me,” which even a nearly four-decade lapsed Catholic knows is a significant quote, but with the strings swelling, the organ purring and the acoustic guitar providing a pillow, you realize it just might be the last thing the guy in the song ever says as well.

“No Peace, Los Angeles”

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