On paper, it works brilliantly.
If you were asked to Frankenstein together your own power-pop supergroup, you’d probably come up with the Tinted Windows band roster. After all, we have Cheap Trick’s Bun E. Carlos on drums, Fountains of Wayne’s bassist/chief songwriter Adam Schlesinger, ex-Smashing Pumpkins axe-man James Iha, and Taylor Hanson of, um, Hanson.
Though the prospect of fusing Cheap Trick and Fountains of Wayne together is more than enough to make the folks running Powerpopaholic squeal with joy (and rightly so), it seems that Hanson and Iha are the odd men out this time around. A closer look proves otherwise: though Hanson will still forever be known for “MMMBop”, the trio of long-haired brothers wound up becoming mature pop craftsmen with each subsequent album they put out, going completely independent for awhile while still garnering decent (if unspectacular) sales in the process. Iha, meanwhile, already has one solo album to his credit (1998’s Let It Come Down, a disc of lovely ‘70s-styled acoustic pop), contributed some guitar work to the Fountains of Wayne song “All Kind of Time”, and co-owns in the indie label Scratchie Records with Schlesinger. When taking all of this into account, it’s easy to expect Tinted Windows to be a great throwback to the alt-pop revival of the mid-‘90s—after all, half of the people responsible for said revival are playing on this album. Really, no matter what way you slice it, Tinted Windows seems like the most natural union of likeminded musicians you can possibly imagine.
At least, until you actually hear the album.
Tinted Windows, tragically, is everything that a pop-rock disc shouldn’t be: bland, boring, and completely forgettable. Instead of coming off as a more mainstream New Pornographers, Schlesinger and co. wind up crafting one watered-down Big Star tribute song after another, hoping that good intentions—not actual, considered songwriting—will be enough to justify the group’s existence. Not only is Tinted Windows a terrible, hookless affair, it may very well be the worst album to be released in 2009 thus far.
Tinted Windows suffers from multiple problems, and chief among them is the notion that Taylor Hanson has enough personality to front a band of this caliber. Vocally, Hanson winds up singing in a detached, unaffected manner that is ill-suiting for the band: Tinted Windows is in dire need of a showman (salesman?) to drive each line home and magnify each emotion. Hanson, instead, glides along like he’s doing vocals on the Rock Band video game, afraid that showing too much emotion will get him off track, causing the pixilated crowd to boo him. When “Kind of a Girl” kicks things off, even his “whoa-oh” vocals feel phoned in and forced, like he’s pretending to have enthusiasm instead of actually being excited about the song in question. With Fountains of Wayne at least, Chris Collingwood’s nasal register wound up giving each track the right amount of nerdy quirk to drive the message home. Here, Hanson’s contributions feel negligible at best, and for a group whose intentions are making the Pop Disc to End All Pop Discs, having a replaceable vocalist is a dire problem to have.
Yet, to be fair, perhaps Hanson isn’t really being given the proper venue for his singing. The production on this disc is colorless and painfully unimaginative, resulting in each song sounding almost exactly like the one preceding it. As such, all 11 of the band’s mid-tempo rockers tend to blur together into one big slush of upbeat sunshine; no one will blame you for getting the indistinctive choruses to “Dead Serious” and “Take Me Back” mixed up when trying to describe this quixotic album to your friends (that is, assuming you could remember what said songs actually sounded like).
Though it’s bad enough for a band to have a terrible frontman and lifeless production, none of this would matter if the songs in question were of exceptional quality. Unfortunately for Tinted Windows, however, each track here can only be described as “embarrassing,” a low-light for every party involved. Though the album credits note that a majority of the songs were penned by Schlesinger, even the most devoted Wayne fans will be in instant denial over the whole thing: how could one of the most interesting pop songwriters working today churn out a batch of girl-chasing tunes so bland that even the Click Five would be embarrassed to record them? As self-consciously corny as “Stacy’s Mom” was, it’s hard to believe that the man responsible for that is also responsible for something as pedestrian as the lyric sheet for the song “We Got Something”:
I believe in you and me
You know this is the way it’s meant to be
We got something
Yeah, we got something
I believe in me and you
We know just what to say, what to do
We got something
Yeah, we got something
Thought the band may certainly claim that this disc in intended as a “throwback” to the days when pop songs could be this innocuous without consequence, it’s hard to believe that a band would go as far as to fill an entire disc with songs this anemic, leaving absolutely no excuse for tracks like the wretched Iha-penned “Cha Cha” and the color-by-numbers rocker “Can’t Get a Read on You”, which feels like a rip-off of other, better rock songs (and besides, hasn’t OK Go already recorded two discs of excellent power-pop history lessons?).
“Without Love”, “Doncha Wanna”, “Back With You”—the list of drab, uninteresting songs feels never-ending. Though the chorus to “Messing with My Head” features a more lively performance from Hanson (and, as such, feels like a much more considered recording), the highlights on Tinted Windows are few and far between. Listening to the disc straight through, it’s hard to remember what even one hook, lyric, or moment of interest. Hell, there aren’t even any laughably bad moments to hold up for public ridicule: just a laundry-list of clichéd lyrics and tired instrumentation.
Let’s be honest with ourselves here: the only reason we’d be interested in the Tinted Windows in the first place is because of who’s actually in the band, our minds awash with the various sonic combinations that can be made with all these different pop maestros coming together to create something grand. Instead, everyone plays it safe, no one takes a risk, and the end result is the most forgettable pop album to be released so far this year. Not only is Tinted Windows a damn shame of an album, it’s a missed opportunity if there ever was one.