Sunday, January 4, 2009

Words & Music - Aqualung (SCQ Detox 1 of 2)

Words & Music

Verve Records.

SCQ Rating: 45%

Dear Matt Hales,

What the hell? Do you realize how hard it was for me to convince people that Memory Man was actually good after you sweet-talked our mothers in with that 'Brighter Than Sunshine' tune off the schmaltzy Strange and Beautiful? One day you’re top forty’s new bashful boy, the next you’re a one-man symphony of bittersweet electronic-pop, turning out songs like ‘Pressure Suit’ and ‘Garden of Love’ as if your soul would implode if you didn’t. A year and a half later, I discover that your follow-up is ready for release; it’s called Words & Music, which is an immediate worry, and it’s released on jazz-label Verve. Still, I gave you the benefit of the doubt.

Listening to Words & Music, I’m hopelessly reminded of Paul McCartney… not the work he did with the Beatles but the drivel he churned out with Wings and in much of his solo career. You know the sound well… that of a moderately talented band-member taking ill-advised inspiration from his lazy, stay-home-while-the-wife-works, domesticated life, where songs deal with post-wedding memories, hackneyed piano arrangements, and predictable lyrics (“falling at your feet”, “on my knees, saying please”, “holding my heart” and “nananananana”… all poisonous one-liners on their own, are actually from the same chorus of ‘On My Knees’). In fact, I can imagine you working any tension or creativity out of these songs in some well-lit living room, sunshine streaming through the bay-window onto your baby-grand. Who knows, you could’ve written Memory Man under the same conditions but things were different then. You were reaching for something or someone in those songs, something or someone that I think you’ve found now cause this happy collection of sap is familiar. I’ve heard the same sap from other songwriters who ran out of superficial conflict and felt they could get by on Paul Simon covers or honkytonk piano melodies.

There are a few reminders of your talent present: ‘Nothing Else Matters’ retains some great hooks and ghostly studio echoes, while ‘Arrivals’ ends the disc as a frustratingly great celtic-based, orchestrated piece. Both these tracks incorporate your good ear for arranging symphonic pop and while they still suffer from a significant sap-factor, they prevent me from kicking myself too much for anticipating this album. After the depth of emotion found on Memory Man, Words & Music is truly little more than what’s promised in the title.

Know that had you never made Memory Man, I wouldn't have bothered with this album in the least. Turns out we were both at fault.

Better luck next time,


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Better luck next time is right. I never thought about how the lacking title could actually reflect the album. It's too bad really. I had much higher expectations as well.