Music geeks have all gone through this scenario: you hear a song by an unknown band on the radio, it immediately grabs your attention, you sit there silent, listening raptly, wondering, “Who is this?” You’re driving home in your car, and you hear such a song as you pull into the driveway, and you simply cannot leave the vehicle until you hear just who the band in question is, cursing aloud when the song is the first of five in a row. Your life is instantly put on hold, the only thing you care about is where that amazing song comes from. Finally, you hear the voice on the radio tell you who it is, and you spend the rest of the day repeating the band’s name like a mantra, afraid you’ll forget it once you’ve logged on to the internet. You search desperately for MP3s, but none are to be found. The local chain record store doesn’t stock the album, of course, and you rush back home, your faith in this glorious song compelling you to order the CD online. The disc finally arrives in the mail, you tear off the cellophane, slap the CD into the stereo, sit back, and drink in that brilliant song, which just happens to be Track One, but the more you listen to the rest of the album, it hits you like a punch in the stomach: the rest of the album, well, pretty much sucks.
Canada’s such a humble country, and its independent musicians are so tragically underappreciated, that the mere idea of a Canadian “indie supergroup” sounds as oxymoronic as “friendly fire”. Still, The Unintended are somewhat of a Canadian indie rock supergroup, featuring members of several much-loved bands from north of the border. You’ve got the multitalented Rick White, former mastermind behind the venerable noise rockers Eric’s Trip (and currently of Elevator), the brothers Dallas and Travis Good, leaders of the country band The Sadies, and Greg Keelor, one half of the singing/songwriting duo in one of Canada’s most popular bands over the past 20 years, Blue Rodeo. This isn’t the first time that these four people worked on the same project; as Keelor co-produced The Sadies’ most recent album, 2002’s Stories Often Told, and White drew the cover art. In early 2003, they decided to hole themselves up at Keelor’s snowbound country home and put together a fun little musical collaboration, and over six quick days, using a lo-fi, eight-track recorder, the end result became the eponymous debut for The Unintended. These artists are so talented, there’s no way they could screw this up, right? Well…
The Unintended is one of those albums where you hear one song, think, “Wow, I have to hear this!”, but once you hear the entire CD, you’re left thinking, “Is that all there is?” It’s really not all that bad, as layers of guitars chime in and around one another, bass notes lope about, drums softly shuffle, pump organ wheezes away warmly. No, what’s annoying about this album is that the band does the exact same thing over and over and over again, each song plodding along at a moody, lugubrious pace, blending into one another. Rarely does a 35 minute album sound so monotonous.
It’s repetitive, but it’s not all terrible. In fact, the lead-off track, “The Collapse” is fantastic, a Wilco-style blend of country rock, ambient sounds, and psychedelic tones. White half-croons, half-speaks in that distinctive style of his, powerfully depicting a person’s shattering emotional breakdown following a nasty break-up. “I’m turning round and tumbling down and fading out of view,” he breathes murkily, “I need to choose between, to hold on or to let go of you.” The song’s dark beauty is stunning.
Unfortunately, that’s all there is, as White sings in the same detached, Thurston Moore wannabe vocal style, sounding like a spaced-out pothead lying on a couch who does nothing but spout bad Deadhead poetry, his lyrics becoming increasingly unbearable as the album goes on: “Blue full moon high over June, stay calm in the cool”... “Sit and feel the gentle breeze that blows your hair like rolling seas”... “Did we remember to forget to remember?”... “I’d fly but my wings are so sore”... “Let’s run to the wide open plains, where all is so clear clean, and sane”... “Look out! Do you see the endless fields of grass? Let’s run away forever on the grass.” It’s enough to make you want to retch.
What should have been a really cool side project has turned out to be nothing more than a one-dimensional, pretentious, uninspired attempt at psychedelic country rock. If you ever do hear “The Collapse” (and I hope you do), make sure you hear the rest of the album before you think of spending your hard-earned cash. Buyer beware, big time.