[16 April 2007]
We shouldn’t fall for this. We should hear an album like Vega4’s first full-length You and Others and be absolutely revolted. There’s not a single imperfection to it—it’s plastic music, genetically engineered and meticulously crafted, designed solely to prey upon our emotions, particularly the overly sentimental portion of those emotions connected to our tear ducts. This is the music that makes you think of Grey’s Anatomy (indeed, schmaltz-filled single candidate “Life is Beautiful” did actually get featured on an episode of the doctors-need-love-too hit) the music that puts images of perfectly-placed rainstorms and floating, windblown plastic bags in your head. You and Others is MOR melancholy, distilled, prettified, and packaged in a glossy, colorful box to encourage mass consumption.
It’s almost enraging, the sort of hold that music like this can have on us. And you know what? We keep lapping it up, millions more of Pavlov’s dogs, hopelessly addicted to overt emotional manipulation.
Perhaps it’s the directness, the refusal of a band like Vega4 to house their emotions and their stories in deep symbolism, instead showing a preference for literal sentiments like “Life is beautiful / But it’s complicated / We barely make it” (quite obviously from the aforementioned “Life is Beautiful”). That’s one of those lyrics that could be brilliant, or it could be utterly stupid. It’s impossible to tell the difference. On one hand, the lack of imagination that went into those ten words is utterly frustrating; on the other hand, those ten words sum up the human condition about as well as any other ten words I’ve heard in the recent past—unimaginative, maybe, but try and find someone for whom they don’t ring just a little bit true. Life is hard, but largely worth living. Who can’t relate to that?
What metaphors do exist on the album are made plain and readily apparent, generally serving as the titles to the songs in which they are used: “Traffic Jam”, “Paper Cuts”, and the clumsy “A Billion Tons of Light” serve as three of the most obvious offenders, though they’re still a bit refreshing when placed next to stanzas like “I really like you / Yeah I really fucking do / It’s a good thing we both know that it’s a good thing”.
And yet, whether the language is metaphorical or literal, whether it’s strung together as a narrative or simply utter nonsense, it doesn’t matter what the words say as long as they’re said with pretty melodies.Vega4 has pretty melodies to spare, which makes it about as likely as any other easy-listening modern-rock band to hit it huge with a fluke of a hit. “You” actually gets away with a verse that never deviates from the do, the re, and the mi by introducing a chorus with falsetto that flies into the song crafting stratosphere, allowing the verse to be boring-but-catchy, and the chorus to sound utterly transcendent next to it. I couldn’t tell you what the song’s about, really, but I can tell you it has a killer chorus, and really, that’s all you need to know, right? That’s the formula here—repetitive verses with big fat choruses, all of them with easy-to-follow, eminently singable melodies. Even where deviation occurs, as on the attractively downcast, vaguely Tragically Hip-esque “If This is It”, it’s done in an easy enough to follow way, that you’ll very likely be singing along on the second listen-through.
So it follows that listening to You and Others would be like launching yourself on a slip-and-slide coated in vegetable oil; that is, thrilling at first, but it’s hard to shake the slimy feeling afterward. Even so, if you’re into the whole hip-TV-show-ready indie-rock thing, you’ll dig it. And you know what? No matter who you are, when you’re hitting the 55-minute mark on whatever TV show you’re watching, and You and Others’ “Boomerang” comes on, you’ll probably tear up a bit.