The Grifters
Ain’t My Lookout
Shangri-La/Sub Pop, 1996

It’s been little more than ten years since the Grifters, a Memphis band bred equally on ‘60s rock, ‘70s punk and ‘90s lo-fi, called it quits, but one hears their name mentioned too rarely these days. The unique mash of huffed blues and off-kilter pop the band made was, at its best, on par with the output of contemporaries Guided By Voices and Pavement, while at its worst still bettered that of so many also-ran four-trackers.

While time has proven it to be the anomaly of the Grifters catalog, Ain’t My Lookout, the band’s fourth full-length, also turned out to be the highlight. Its damn near perfect blend of tin-type pop and rusted noise embellishment has proven dust-proof, still sounding as invigorated as ever 12 years on. Deconstruction is a term bandied about too often, but Lookout does seem to pull apart its influences while simultaneously assimilating them. Coupled with Dave Shouse’s streams of semiotics, the band revels in letting the gaps show. On “My Apology” Shouse admits one moment to needing to have written his lyrics down, while the next asks for a “ham-bone slide” when he feels it’s warranted. Similarly on “Last Man Alive,” he’s got his ear to the ground, singing “Well, of course I’m enraptured by the lilting sounds of Color Blind James.” It’s this straddling of the past and present (and, I suppose, the future) even when it’s concerning a fictional, albeit plausible, character, that the Grifters did so convincingly on this album.

But so too was Lookout a product of its times. Best among the record’s baker’s dozen is “Boho/Alt” a fetching skewering of the scenester elite, with Shouse mocking, “Oh to be, state of the art of boho/alt... Born to be the sunshine of your ass.” Even when being snide, though, Shouse still sounds somewhat sympathetic to his targets.

But for the most part, the record’s lyrical concerns are fairly primal—booze, ladies and more booze—even if they’re covered up cryptically. On “Day Shift,” he drinks away the sorrow in nursery rhyme fashion, “See saw, chain saw, I think... I drink too much.” Further on, he slurs his words, appropriately making “shift” sound like “shit” when he declares, “Go ahead, make my day, shift.” Throughout the album, each seemingly happenstance couplet is imbued with morphic resonance, gleaning meaning when strung together with others. Ain’t My Lookout is one for the ages as much for the unintentional bits as for what the Grifters purported to create.
Stephen Slaybaugh