RIYL: Jellyfish, Dan Wilson, Mike Viola
For a man as talented as Bleu (William James McAuley III to his mother) is, his solo albums were downright exasperating to listen to. For every sky-high pop classic like “Get Up” or “We’ll Do It All Again,” there were three songs that sounded like they were written to be a hit at that very moment, all post-nu metal ballad-y bluster (think Staind’s “It’s Been Awhile”) and no soul. His label refused to even release his second major album A Watched Pot, and once it finally dropped last year, we could see why – the damn thing was stuffed to the gills with more of those silly ballads. Between the songs mentioned above and Bleu’s efforts as ringleader of Alpacas Orgling, the Jeff Lynne tribute album from one-off indie pop supergroup L.E.O., it’s clear Bleu knows how to turn things up a notch. So why hasn’t he?
Amazing what a little creative freedom and a bunch of Kickstarter cash will do (dude raised over $30K in fan contributions), because Four, Bleu’s latest album and the first to be released on his own label, is decidedly more upbeat than its predecessors. Nothing here matches the dizzy heights of “Get Up” or “We’ll Do It All Again,” but it’s the most consistent and versatile album he’s released to date.
Four also has its share of ballads, but they feel less forced than the ones that clogged his previous two albums. He still can’t help his profane ways, though, taking a lovely Smokey Robinson-ish groove and calling it “When the Shit Hits the Fan.” (Note to aspiring songwriters everywhere: do not ever sing about whether or not someone’s shit does or doesn’t stink. Ever.) “How Blue,” however, could pass for a lost L.E.O. B-side, and “Everything Is Fine” is absulutely gorgeous, a pastoral acoustic ballad filled with strings and what has to be Roger Joseph Manning Jr. on backing vocals (our review copy was a download, therefore no liner notes).
The two songs from Four that will remain standards in Bleu’s live set for time immemorial are “Dead in the Mornin’,” a gospel rave-up where he bequeaths his possessions, and “B.O.S.T.O.N.,” a love song to his adopted home town. The best thing to be said about the album, though, is the absence of that trendy crunch that weighed down Redhead and A Watched Pot – that sound never fit his songs. The production on Four may not be as slick, but it’s more honest. It’s unclear if the solo career is still Bleu’s #1 priority or just something to play with in his downtime – and who would blame him if it weren’t, after penning songs with Hanson, the Jonas Brothers, and Selena Gomez – but better to see Four arrive two albums late than not at all. (The Major Label 2010)