A Spoonful of Sugar Won’t Make The Medicine Go Down
Jeremy Renner’s album The Medicine is technically music in the same way that Soylent is technically food: it’s definitely trying, but it’ll never be able to pass for the real thing. Now, a thought might’ve already sprung to your mind—Jeremy Renner? The virtuoso whose only claim to fame has historically been playing Hawkeye with the same blank expression for the past decade? Yes, that Jeremy Renner. And now you might be thinking, I didn’t know he was a singer! He isn’t a singer, but undaunted by the constraints of reality, he’s released an album anyway.
It’s been a tough year for all of us, and judging from this album, it’s only going to get worse. Renner released The Medicine in March, and less than twenty-four hours ago to the date of this review, he released another EP. Thus, there could be no better time to revisit his first. At this point, Renner is no stranger to music. In 2019, he released a few singles to showcase his lyrical prowess, featuring immensely clever wordplay like “If this world’s a circle / I don’t got time for no squares / Two plus two must equal / I don’t care.” The Medicine is a similar feat of audacious mediocrity. It might be an attempt to distract the public from his messy and protracted divorce, or from its attendant custody battle and his requests to lower his child support payments during a global pandemic—the mark of a chivalrous and committed father, indeed. (https://www.intouchweekly.com/posts/jeremy-renners-ex-wife-sonni-pacheco-files-for-back-child-support/) If that’s the case, it hasn’t succeeded, because I’m not sure that a celebrity’s album has ever been released—and promptly forgotten—with so little fanfare.
Lack of recognition aside, I can only assume Renner expects to be taken seriously. So out of—perhaps misplaced—respect for his craft, I intend to give The Medicine nothing less than the most rigorous and exacting analysis that high art deserves. And there’s no denying that a lot of effort went into this. It doesn’t involve much finesse, but the effort is evident; I don’t doubt that this is probably the best he can manage.
The Medicine is seven songs long, though it might as well be an experiment in time dilation, because it feels a great deal longer. Its title track is the eponymous “The Medicine.” I think it’s a bold move to start with what is arguably one’s weakest song, but if Renner is anything, it’s bold. If I had to hazard a guess, I would assume that this is a song about love and loss. It features impenetrable lyrics like “Silence is so loud,” which is at least imaginative, if not strictly true.
What I find most interesting about “The Medicine” is the way in which it showcases Renner’s eminently unique vocal techniques. There’s no small amount of Autotune, perhaps mercifully. But underneath all the artifice are the dulcet, gravelly, nearly asthmatic tones of what sounds like a man with his foot caught in a mousetrap—as surprised as you are that this is happening, stretched beyond his capacity, and rather pained. It isn’t what anyone would traditionally describe as a promising start, but it is, like all l’art pour l’art, very entertaining.
The next standout is “Main Attraction,” the very last song on the album and probably technically the strongest. It’s the sort of generic mix of rock and pop you’d hear in the background during a club scene in a low-budget sitcom like 2 Broke Girls—uninteresting, uninspiring, and meant to be forgettable. But it is also the closest thing resembling conventional music that Renner seems to be capable of producing, so if you’ve already committed, it’s worth a listen. It also has a music video on YouTube full of confusing visuals seemingly unrelated to the lyrics, and features an appearance by Taika Waititi in a hot dog costume, so there’s something for everyone. “Main Attraction” is, as far as I can discern, about whirlwind romance and the tortured soul of a man consumed by wanderlust, leading to lyrics like, “Roaming through the city like the track of time / The freedom is mine.” It remains unclear why the track of time is roaming, but who knew Renner was capable of such complex contemplations about the fleeting and ephemeral nature of life?
But perhaps my favorite song from the Renner canon is “Every Woman.” It is a delightfully jumbled, unapologetically incoherent, guitar-heavy paean to womanhood in all of its myriad complexities. (I think so, at least.) I like “Every Woman” because there’s a video on Renner’s YouTube channel showing the development of the song, providing much needed background on what would otherwise be a complete mystery. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FCwhpqT6yp8) It’s nice to have an insight into the twisted mind of an artist—more twisted than most, in this case—and thus, I spent an irreplaceable number of minutes going down the Renner rabbithole in search of answers. (I found none.)
In the video, Renner is accompanied by his writing partner Eric Zayne, who seems to be taking capricious pleasure in Renner’s amateur attempts at composing. Renner tries to explain his reasoning for “Every Woman” in typically lofty terms: “All of my power, all of my intelligence, all my emotional intelligence, all that I have in my life, is because of three women—my mother and my two sisters.” (At the invocation of intellect, Renner’s partner looks at the camera with puckish glee in what is a genuine masterclass in the art of visual storytelling.) Renner continues by sagely saying, “It’s called Mother Earth for a reason…Women are not in a position to where they need to be, okay?”
He’s no Gloria Steinem, but I suppose he isn’t wrong. The resultant ballad is a brilliant attempt to rewrite the Declaration of Sentiments from the Seneca Falls Convention, featuring incredible feminist statements such as, “Mother, sister / You seed the flowers to my garden,” and a soaring climax in which he repeats the words “every woman” for what feels like an eternity but is somehow only thirty seconds. This song, like every other one on the album, inspires the sort of commentary that abstract art often does—I could definitely make something better than this, you think. Unlike a Jackson Pollock, you definitely could make something better than this, but because Renner is insulated by enormous wealth and all the privileges celebrity has to offer, you get to listen to the audio equivalent of his midlife crisis instead. There’s much to be said about the fact that The Medicine wouldn’t have been released had Renner not been rich and white and a man, but for once, I don’t actually have any commentary on the overarching implications of that, not least because I don’t think he deserves my time. This is just a bad album, and that’s all there is to it. The Medicine is not, at the end of things, remotely curative. But it is a little bit fun, maybe because it’s a twenty-seven minute escape from the harsh realities of a world in turmoil. I cannot in good conscience advocate for you giving your clicks to the world’s worst husband and father—not to mention the world’s worst lyricist, composer, and singer—but if you do, start with “Every Woman.”