I Don’t Know Why I Act This Way, by Jude Cole
I don’t want to say this is a bad album, because any album by Jude Cole is going to have good music, solid production, and thought-provoking lyrics. This is, however, a very mystifying album. In listening to this album, I was frequently struck not only by the usual downbeat style and approach of Jude Cole, which one either appreciates or doesn’t, and I do, but also by the extremely unpleasant nature of some of the material that he was singing about. There is a time when artists give their audience not what they want, but what they think they need, or they sing out of where they are instead of out where they think their audience is, and that is definitely the case in this album. As a result, in listening to the album, with a few rare exceptions of songs that sound like they could have been hits in a better world, this is an album whose lack of appeal is easy enough to understand even if the songs themselves are not exactly bad in a technical sense. In listening to this album, I wondered who would want to listen to this album, who approved this album, and why this album is the way it is. I have some guesses, but the answers aren’t very good ones.
This album is a relatively short one at just over 40 minutes and ten songs, but it packs a punch with some deeply unsettling songs. The album begins with “Speed Of Life,” a gorgeous song about the ups and downs of life that is one of the high points of this album and certainly was a potential single. This is followed by the surprisingly bitter “Believe In You,” which ponders lawsuits from Philip Morris over appearing in a song that no one from the company likely heard as it deals with cynicism. “Move If You’re Goin” is another somewhat off-putting track, but one that sounds interesting at least. “Lowlife,” shows the singer asking for answers from God because he feels low on life, which is evident. The next two songs are the darkest and most unpleasant of the album, with “Joe” providing an unsympathetic picture of a hypocrite who goes to church on Sundays and beats his wife, ponders suicide, and is going through an affair with one of his song’s teachers, all while not knowing why he acts this way. After that, “Sheila Don’t Remember” looking at a situation where the narrator hopes that Sheila doesn’t remember what he has done to her, which could be anything ranging from a relationship gone bad to something truly dark like rape or abuse. From here, the author reflects upon his losses in “Take The Reins,” comments that he is a long way from home in the driving and relatively upbeat “Madison,” another single-worthy track, and then looks at the relationship drama of life in “Hole At The Top Of The World,” before ending with a track in “Heaven’s Last Attempt” that leads the listener to ponder the sad state of the singer, who would not release an album for five years after Island dropped him when this album failed to sell.
Overall, this album is by far the weakest of the three major label studio albums that Jude Cole released in the 1990’s. A View From Third Street is a pop-rock masterpiece and Start The Car is an excellent follow-up that capitalizes on the promise with some grittier music and lyrics. But I Don’t Know Why I Ask This Way makes the listener ask that about the singer-songwriter, and that is never a good idea. It would appear, at least to me, that Jude Cole took his label change very hard and was in a meditative mood to reflect upon his lack of success, and that frustration and lack of confidence is in full view here. In many ways this album reminds me of Edwin McCain’s Scream And Whisper in being an album full of deep sadness and bitterness and that is a great shame because it alienates the listener from the material. Is the singer merely bemoaning his own fate about being rejected despite his talent and hard work? Is the singer trying to take out his feelings of frustration with life and a lack of pop success on those few people who are listening to it? Are people like the audience the targets of the singer’s miserabilist discussions of people living ugly and unsuccessful lives? It is no wonder why audiences fled from this album, even if a few of the songs are still great.