In Hear This, A.V. Club writers sing the praises of songs they know well. This week, as part of our salute to artificial intelligence, we’re looking at songs about robots and/or computers.
The common thread on Grandaddy’s fantastic second album, 2000’s The Sophtware Slump, is an exasperation with technology: It’s like a whimsical version of Radiohead’s much more ballyhooed OK Computer. Nowhere is that skepticism more profoundly placed than on the twin tracks “Jed The Humanoid” and “Jed’s Other Poem (Beautiful Ground).” The former describes the proud construction of an artificially intelligent friend, Jed, who can walk, sing, talk, and even “compile thoughts.” But after Jed is no longer a novelty, he ends up ignored—and he drinks himself to death. (Poor Jed.)
Turns out, a little later in the album, that Jed left Grandaddy some poetry before he died, and it’s equally bleak: The robot woke up drunk in the park, reflecting on his own failures (“I try to sing funny like Beck, but it’s bringing me down”). There’s less of OK Computer’s bleakness here—it’s no “Fitter Happier” or even “Paranoid Android”—but somehow that makes Grandaddy’s robot-enhanced future even sadder. Technology isn’t the enemy; it just offers another way for humans to fuck things up.