The Brilliant Mistakes

Dumb Luck

by Jason MacNeil

22 April 2004


A ton of groups take the highbrow route when it comes to naming their bands, taking detailed phrases from obscure songs of their forefathers to display either some semblance of credibility or their biggest influences. The Big Apple band known as the Brilliant Mistakes have done just that—taking an Elvis Costello tune as their moniker. Regardless of this touch, the trio of Erik Philbrook on bass, singer/keyboardist Alan Walker, and drummer Paul Mauceri use a bit of roots in their crafty pop songs. “As a songwriter, you can’t spend most of your life ingesting every word and note of your musical idols, and not want to aspire to that same level of craftsmanship and mainstream acceptance,” Philbrook says in the press kit. “Like most people, I can connect the best periods of my life with favorite songs that I was listening to at the time.”

Thus, the Brilliant Mistakes are very safe in terms of its songs, beginning with the light and roots-ish “Stupid Love Song”, which definitely recalls the Jayhawks with a bit of Ben Folds and that flash-in-the-pan group the New Radicals (“You Get What You Give”). The harmonies are spot, on though, making the three minutes and change flow by very quickly. The deft use of violin and strings are also another asset on this album, not making them grandiose, but just placing them in very selective areas. “The Girl You Left Behind” is a lighter-sounding tune that glides along with piano and a tight arrangement. It also contains a bit of the BoDeans or Tom Petty in it, especially during and after the chorus, but without the harder, meatier guitar riffs. Things get toned down on the witty “Crawl Back”, which veers a very cute line between a slow building rocker and a deftly crafted pop tune. There is also a pedal steel guitar added atop of it courtesy of Larry Campbell, one of the backing musicians behind that Dylan fella.

cover art

The Brilliant Mistakes

Dumb Luck

(Aunt Mimi's)
US: 20 Feb 2004
UK: Available as import

The first truly pretty tune is “Feed the Elephant”, which has more of a melancholia over it, talking about one night stands as the strong songwriting and music comes to the fore a la the Odds or XTC. “You look so captivating in the dim light of a local bar”, the band sings as a mid-tempo arrangement works wonderfully. The high harmonies also round out the tune, making it all the more sticky sweet. The title track saunters along just as brilliantly, recalling groups like the Rembrandts before that Friends song made them all popular. They tend to rock out a bit more during the bridge, but it’s not enough to make it that much of a contrast. More of an Americana flavor is heard during “Line of Battle” as Walker leads the way on piano, with strings added for texture. It becomes a very lush experience, however, diminishing what they created earlier on. The Beatles-like finale doesn’t jive that well.

One track that misses the mark is “What Will They Write on Your Stone?”, which resembles a pale effort by the likes of Sloan fronted by Patrick Pentland, or the Kinks minus the lilt. It has a catchy chorus, but that’s the only semblance of a saving grace. Fortunately, this is quickly forgotten with the lovable roots pop of “Destiny’s Too Slow”. Keeping it simple but definitely not stupid, the song soars higher than Walker’s stretched vocals. By this time, though, the band are running on fumes of filler, especially on the slick and stale “Let It Show”, which is nothing but a play-by-numbers ditty. An Everly Brothers approach on “Clear to Me Now” is excellent—a pair in harmony over another Gary Louris-like style of tune. Heck, even Joe Jackson can be discerned on the quirky but head bobbing “That Dance”. On the whole, it takes more than just dumb luck to have such pop smarts.

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