[23 June 2011]
A curious one, this. It all begins pleasant enough with the glammy, strummy, feel good hit of the weekend, “Options”, the sort of tune that takes all the sex and sass out of T. Rex and renders it completely palatable for late night teenage dreams of white horses, white knights, and white castles. But by the midway mark, Whatever’s on Your Mind sounds so sterile, the performances so lifeless, that you have to wonder if there were humans behind it or if it were crafted by a bunch of machines programmed, under contractual obligation, to deliver an album to be inhaled—not chewed and contemplated—for an audience to take what it can get while it awaits the next Coldplay album.
In addition to album opener, the second track “I Will Take You There” is fully loaded with faux funkiness, as well as drums and vocals that call to mind Thom Yorke and Co. It’s a perfect track for those who find Radiohead embarrassingly outré and who bob their heads in praise at the concession stand during a Dave Matthews show, but don’t own anything in his discography—it’s perfectly forgettable incidental music for the blurred life lived under a haze of Bud Lite and convenience store burritos.
But this, remember, is while we’re still in the album’s good half.
In fact, the third track, “Whatever’s on Your Mind”, imagines a schmaltz-laden version of My Morning Jacket getting in bed with Train and/or Five for Fighting, replete with ridiculously overproduced choruses and lyrics that are less universal than painfully vague. Of course, these cats, as other critics have noted, were kicking around some of these concepts minutes before MMJ hit the scene, but that doesn’t matter—it’s one of those sad cases where the, er, innovators become the imitators.
Elsewhere, “Just As Lost As You” is an excuse for a chorus and some pretty keyboards without any real substance in its mercifully brief three minutes. But the painfully long “The Place and the People” really begins the slide into musical hell. A repetitive acoustic figure, destined to be strummed on the front porch of fraternity houses and on the lawn of college dorms come the fall, gives way to what sounds like Gomez getting attitudinal, but of course the fellas have about as much attitude as the latter-day Goo Goo Dolls. And the ballad “Our Goodbye” wallows in its own misery as it tries to be a song made for both the NPR set and the commercial radio world, while being sappy enough that Ray LaMontagne would have thrown it in his reject pile right after breakfast.
The next three numbers aren’t much of an improvement. There’s the bland “Song in My Heart”, the long-feared return of 1989 production values on the cluttered toss-off “Equalize” (imagine the late, great Robert Palmer fronting Hysteria-era Def Leppard), and the tolerable (but only by comparison) “That Wolf”. This turgid trio of tunes drives an already flawed recording into the ground. If you’re brave enough to see this all the way through the end, the mother of all filler tracks, “X-Rays”, awaits you.
There’s a difference between appealing to a broad audience and pandering to one, and that difference is having some sense of artistic soul. This has neither. It’s tempting to call it forgettable, but you don’t want to forget Whatever’s on Your Mind, lest you make the same mistake twice.