Gin Blossoms: No Chocolate Cake


RIYL: Marshall Crenshaw, Del Amitri, Toad the Wet Sprocket

The Gin Blossoms pulled a nifty comeback when they dropped Major Lodge Victory in 2006. It didn’t exactly reinvent the wheel, but this is the Gin Blossoms we’re talking about – they’re just not one of those bands, and there isn’t a goddamn thing wrong with that. Unfortunately, while the band may not be reinventing themselves, they are repeating a disturbing pattern from their days in the spotlight: following a good album with an inferior one.

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And whle we’re talking about their first “inferior” album, let’s be clear about one thing up front: Congratulations I’m Sorry was not a bad record. Granted, it wasn’t a great record, but its biggest crime was that it wasn’t able to catch the public off guard like New Miserable Experience did. As radio songs go, “Day Job,” “Follow You Down” and “Not Only Numb” are only slightly, only slightly behind “Hey Jealousy,” “Found Out About You” and “Mrs. Rita” on the ear candy scale. The biggest thing Congratulations had against it was timing, and the same could be said of No Chocolate Cake. Once the Blossoms put Major Lodge Victory on the shelves, they lost the element of surprise once again. Chocolate Cake is perfectly pleasant, and occasionally more than that, namely “Wave Bye Bye” and “Something Real,” which was inexplicably relegated to the album’s basement (song #10 out of 11). Lead single “Miss Disarray” hits all of the same buttons that their earlier songs hit; the problem is that those buttons don’t work anymore.

But is that the Gin Blossoms’ fault? If anything, give them credit for sticking to their guns and doing the one thing they know how to do really well, commercial prospects be damned. A weaker band would have turned in some lame Rob Thomas knockoff a decade ago for another chance at the brass ring. Not the Gin Blossoms. If they’re going down, they’re going down doing what they love, and they deserve credit for that. Besides, that corporate circuit is a profitable one, from what we’ve heard, and there isn’t a goddamn thing wrong with that, either. (429 Records 2010)

Gin Blossoms MySpace page
Click to buy Chocolate Cake from Amazon

  

Freedy Johnston: Rain on the City


RIYL: Better Than Ezra, Counting Crows, David Mead

Freedy Johnston has been riding a small wave stemming from his mid-90’s alt-pop/modern rock hit “Bad Reputation,” from his major label debut This Perfect World. At the time, Johnston’s music could be found alongside the likes of the Gin Blossoms, Hootie and the Blowfish, and Better Than Ezra in retail stores and radio, and it fit nicely. That also was a high point for Johnston, because he continued to release a few more albums on Elektra, but never quite matched the magic of This Perfect World. The good news for his fans, though, is that Johnston has continued to make music and tour – and 2009 found him back with his original label, independent Bar/None, to release Rain on the City, Johnston’s first album of new original material in eight years. On this effort, Johnston still has hints of what made him popular a decade and a half ago, but the songs are a notch below that material, and his voice is a tad scratchier and more weathered. That isn’t to say this is bad stuff; it’s nice, and the title of the album is perfect for some of what you might call Johnston’s “rainy day” mood music – especially on the title track, as well as on “Lonely Penny” and “The Devil Raises His Own.” He also rocks a bit on the too-truthful “Don’t Fall in Love with a Lonely Girl” and offers up his take on lounge music with “The Kind of Love We’re In.” Rain on the City is a good album by anyone’s standards – but while Freedy Johnston has certainly earned the right to make his living making music, his days of making magic may be a decade or so behind him. (Bar/None 2010)

Freedy Johnston MySpace Page

  

21st Century Breakdown: David Medsker’s Songs of the 2000s

I used to have a thing about my musical tastes. I so desperately wanted them to be cool, or at the very least be something that only a handful of people were privy to. (I was tempted to say ‘hip’ instead of ‘privy,’ but you can’t spell ‘hipster’ without ‘hip,’ and God knows I’m not hip enough to be a hipster.) My friend Kathi, she has obscenely cool taste in music. I’m surprised she’s friends with me, since I surely bring her cool factor down by a good 20 points.

Then a couple of years ago, I realized – who the hell cares? A great song is a great song, and it doesn’t really matter how popular – or unpopular – it is. I can’t tell you how freeing that was, and I have a very well-known blogger to thank for it. When she admitted to me in private how much she enjoyed a band at Lollapalooza, only to dismiss them a few days later in her column, I realized that it was completely pointless to pander to hipster elitism. You’re being dishonest with yourself, and the hipsters are only going to turn on you in the end, anyway.

So I turned a blind eye to what was a pop song versus what was a “pop” song, as it were, and realizing that there was no distinction between the two made everything soooooo much easier. So here we are in 2009, and as part of our recap of the best music the decade had to offer, I have to try to apply this whole revisionist history viewpoint to the entire decade, which is no mean feat, to say the least. It therefore makes sense that assembling one big-ass list of songs will look like the work of someone with multiple personalities, so instead they are cut up into bite-sized lists for easier consumption, with YouTube links for the uninitiated.

Top 10 Modern Rock Songs of the 2000s
10. “Do You Want To,” Franz Ferdinand
“Take Me Out” was the bigger hit, but this song swings like Austin Powers in the jungle. Nice riff on “My Sharona” in the break, too.

9. “Galvanize,” Chemical Brothers
Push the button; shake that booty.

8. “The Bleeding Heart Show,” The New Pornographers
What the world needs now, is more hey la, hey la’s.

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7. “Sometime Around Midnight,” Airborne Toxic Event
Suck it, Pitchfork. These guys are good. You’re just too far up your own asses to admit it.

6. “American Idiot,” Green Day
The only sad thing about this song is that Joey Ramone didn’t live long enough to hear it.

5. “I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor,” Arctic Monkeys
I love the way these guys riff on Duran Duran lyrics, and then act as if they made it all up themselves. As the old adage says, talent borrows, but genius steals. And for the record, we don’t care for sand, either.

4. “Chelsea Dagger,” The Fratellis
Best drunken barroom chorus since “Tubthumping.”

3. “Laura,” Scissor Sisters
For all the progress that was made this decade in terms of hip hop and black culture becoming more accepted on pop radio, it appears that the gays still have a long road ahead of them. Pity.

2. “Never Miss a Beat,” Kaiser Chiefs
They opened their set at Lollapalooza with this. The only other band to grab me by the throat like that with their opening song is, well, My #1…

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1. “Knights of Cydonia,” Muse
September 11, 2006, Columbus, Ohio. Muse opens their set with this song, blows the roof off the place.

Top 10 Pop Songs of the 2000s
10. “Can’t Get You Out of My Head,” Kylie Minogue
Proof that even the most alt of alt rockers love Kylie: The Flaming Lips covered this song.

9. “Drops of Jupiter,” Train
They did a great job recreating the Elton John sound. Too bad they didn’t have Bernie Taupin write the lyrics. Fried chicken? Ugh.

8. “Music,” Madonna
I watched this song take one of those sports bars that has basketball courts and bowling alleys, and turn every one of its patrons into dancing fools.

7. “Is It Any Wonder?,” Keane
Dogged by some for its similarity to U2, but when was the last time U2 wrote something this bouncy?

6. “Shut Up and Let Me Go,” The Ting Tings
I’ll shut up, Katie, but there’s no way I’m letting you go.

5. “Chasing Pavements,” Adele
It took two Grammy wins for this song to finally crack the Top 40. (*shakes head in disbelief*)

4. “Hey Ya,” Outkast
Andre 3000 finally picks up a guitar to write a song, and this, THIS, is the first thing that comes out. Mother, fucker.

3. “Crazy,” Gnarls Barkley
When my mom comes home from a trip to see my brother on the east coast and tells me about a song she heard by a band whose name is similar to some celebrity or other, I know that said celebrity knockoff band has struck a chord.

2. “99 Problems,” Jay-Z
“You crazy for this one, Rick!” Actually, Jay-Z, you have it the other way around. You crazy if you make this song with anyone other than Rick Rubin.

1. “Umbrella,” Rihanna
It was at least a year before I made the effort to find out what the hubub was about this damn “Umbrella” song. And then I heard it. Holy shit, this song pisses genius.

Big in the UK
7. “LDN,” Lily Allen
No guy wants to hear his ex tell the world what a lousy lover he is, but is there a man alive that doesn’t want a shot at Lily Allen?

6. “Nearer Than Heaven,” Delays
My favorite new musical expression of the decade: skyscraper, used to describe a song with soaring melodies. And this puppy’s the Empire State Building.

5. “Boyfriend,” Alphabeat
That this album didn’t even see the light of day in the States shows just how myopic our views of pop music have become.

4. “Digital Love,” Daft Punk
Keytar!

3. “Plug It In,” Basement Jaxx featuring J.C. Chasez
Come on, bang that head in the chorus. You know you want to.

2. “Never Be Lonely,” The Feeling
B-b-b-baby, this song is c-c-c-crazy catchy.

1. “Kids,” Robbie Williams & Kylie Minogue
Another song I thought had a shot at cracking the US charts. Funky verses, slammin’ choruses, what’s not to love? Robbie Williams, apparently. He never gained the traction here that other UK singers did. Strange.

Best Pop Songs You Never Heard
Of course, you probably have heard most of these songs, but I didn’t have another category to place them in, so they’re going here instead.

“Nice,” Duran Duran
Easily the band’s best song since “Ordinary World” and “Come Undone.” Anyone who likes Rio but has since given up on the band, go listen to this at once.

“I Believe She’s Lying,” Jon Brion
Los Angeles’ resident mad genius of pop finally gets his 1997 album Meaningless released in early 2001. Power pop fans proceed to lose their minds. And can you blame them? Listen to that drum track. It’s like the piano solo to “In My Life,” gone drum ‘n bass.

“Mine and Yours,” David Mead
If the video I linked to is any indicator, this was a big hit with the Japanese karaoke crowd. Go figure.

“She’s Got My Number,” Semisonic
Where an otherwise straightforward pop band goes off the deep end into delicious, melancholy strangeness. One of my bigger interview thrills was getting to tell Dan Wilson how much I loved this song.

“My Name Is Love,” Rob Dickinson
Catherine Wheel singer turns down the distortion, ramps up the harmonies. Again, the word ‘skyscraper’ comes to mind.

“Can We Still Be Friends?,” Mandy Moore
Dan Wilson reference #2: he sings backing vocals on this shockingly good Todd Rundgren cover. People have scoffed at the notion of Ryan Adams marrying someone like Mandy. Not me.

“io (This Time Around),” Helen Stellar
Let it not be said that nothing good came from “Elizabethtown,” as it introduced me to this beautifully spacey song.

“Buildings and Mountains,” Republic Tigers
Truly a band out of time, which is exactly why I love them. I wonder if the reason A-ha is breaking up is because they heard this song and thought, “Damn, they do us better than we do.”

“The End of the World,” Gin Blossoms
Most bands that take 11 years between albums come back as a pale imitation of their former selves, but the Gin Blossoms’ 2006 album Major Lodge Victory was a damn fine little record. This one appeals to my not-so-inner Beatlemaniac.

“Fragile,” Kerli
This Estonian princess is an odd little bird, but that’s what I like about her. This ballad closes her debut album with quite the quiet storm.

“Road to Recovery,” Midnight Juggernauts
Another band whose lack of success has me scratching my head. It’s the best dance album Peter Murphy never made, or the best rock album Daft Punk never made, one of the two. Or both.

My sincere apologies to the following bands, who also deserve mention:
Divine Comedy, Noisettes, Pet Shop Boys, Doves, Rialto, Beck, White Stripes, Rufus Wainwright, Kenna, Mylo, Pete Yorn, Apples in Stereo, Hard-Fi, The Thorns, Rock Kills Kid, The Hours, Derek Webb, Glen Hansard, Aimee Mann, Kirsty MacColl, Gorillaz, Air, Charlotte Sometimes, Mika, Def Leppard, Coldplay, Chicane, Elastica, XTC, and about 50 others.

  

The Trampolines: Between the Lines


RIYL: Toad the Wet Sprocket, Gin Blossoms, The Hooters

If you are a fan of well-produced, well-written, harmony-drenched power pop, you may have found a new favorite band in Denver’s the Trampolines. Back with their second album and first since 2005, Between the Lines, this trio delivers a solid set of material that deserves to be heard by those who champion the type of stuff that came out of the Aware Records camp and what today passes for AAA (adult album alternative). Think Train or Toad the Wet Sprocket, with throwback flavors from bands like the Hooters and the Eagles. Don’t let lofty comparisons like that make you skeptical either, because this stuff is as addictive as that bag of chips you pick up at a truck stop when you’re really hungry – and maybe that’s just it, that we’re all starved for good, melodic rock. Frontman Mark Sundermeier and his band mates have not only written extremely catchy material, but they also deliver it with conviction and with some exceptional vocals. Right from the start, the harmonies and guitar tones on “The Need” are very Toad-esque and then some of the other standouts are the breezy “Shelter” and “Green Lights,” as well as the rocking “Letter,” which effectively marries fuzzy guitar with some nice driving piano. If you’re into any of the acts mentioned here, you need to do yourself a favor and check out The Trampolines, stat. (self-released 2009)

The Trampolines MySpace Page

  

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