What do you do after your first major single goes to the top of the charts, takes you around the world on tour, and then deposits you back on your doorstep world-weary, a little wiser, a little richer, and trying to avoid the stigma of being a “one-hit wonder”? It’s a question that plagues a lot of acts, especially those who are abruptly introduced into the disposable pop economy. Do you take your chances by recording your next album using your own wits and inspirations, or do you try to reach for the golden ring once more and turn your success into a formula?
For Deep Blue Something, that question was answered by vanishing from the public eye and taking a break from it all. The Pipes brothers, Todd and Toby, and the rest of the band decided that the post-success doldrums were a chance to reflect, regroup and return to the roots that they’d established before platinum status. Of course, unlike the simple, quiet retiring from fame for some moments of self-reflection that many artists weave into their biographies, Deep Blue Something was assisted in their hiatus by four large lawsuits against the band which prevented them from recording any new material.
If the name Deep Blue Something means anything to the fickle music fan, it’s their flash-in-the-pan success with the 1995 single, “Breakfast at Tiffany’s,” an interminably catchy pop song that earned the band a lot of airplay, fans, and cash, and also earned them their near-crippling lawsuits. From the 1995 album Home, “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” was the shimmering song that brought the band from local-Dallas-band status to international fame courtesy the potential that Interscope Records saw in the single. But, like so many other acts who never make it past the icebreaker song, the following singles from Home weren’t similar enough for the general public to take interest in and although the band fared even better overseas than in the U.S., after the initial frenzy over “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” died down it seemed like Deep Blue Something were destined to become an almost-forgotten entry in karaoke books and no more.
But with their legal troubles finally behind them and the return of the band’s original guitarist, Deep Blue Something is ready to return, if not to the success of the “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” days, then at least to a comfortable place as a currently producing act. And to their credit, Deep Blue Something opted not to try and duplicate “Breakfast at Tiffany’s”. Instead, their latest release, a self-titled album, returns to the rock and pop roots that influenced the band to form in the first place. One of the biggest problems with Home was that everything seemed so scattered. Not only did “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” seem like an anomaly, but none of the other songs held together well as a collection. A part of this might be the result of the band’s self-image. Todd Pipes said at one point that Deep Blue Something began as an alternative band with goth undertones. This can be heard to some extent in the music of their first album, the self-produced 11th Song, which sounds not unlike the Mission UK in many ways, but it’s a far cry from the pop sound that “Breakfast” had fans expecting.
Deep Blue Something is neither an album of simple pop tunes, nor is it an attempt at watery goth tones. Instead, it’s a power pop album of mature craftsmanship and artistry. In many ways, this latest release pays tribute to the best in power pop, pop/rock, British rock, and college/alternative music from the mid-1980s to the mid-1990s. The songs combine what sometimes seem like disparate elements of famous bands of yesteryear into a solid tapestry of excellent songs. Yet, while it might be possible to sit and analyze each track on the album to find the different influences, this isn’t a tribute album proper. Instead, this is a disc representing new material from a band that has all the elements to be successful indie pop stars all over again. If there’s nostalgia induced by this disc, it’s wrong to think that the band is just gazing back fondly on the past. It’s really that they’re keeping the traditions alive in the present.
For an example of this combination of traditions you don’t have to look any further than the first single, “She Is”. Mirroring in some ways other contemporary power-popsters like Spacehog, this song is full of Beatlesque melodies, quietly strummed guitars paired with electric flourishes and warbles, and lovely psychedelic harmonies that sound like the reincarnation of Jellyfish. Other tracks have a much more direct influence, such as “Hell In Itself” which sounds a lot like U2’s “One” (which might be the result of mixer Tim Palmer’s influence, who worked with U2 in the past). Then there’s the glistening track “Parkbench”. Think Electronic’s first album. Think Ian Broudie. Ocean Blue set to a dance beat. This is a lost gem from the late ‘80s/early ‘90s unearthed in some Peel Sessions file, surely? Nope. It’s Deep Blue Something slipping into post-New Romantic mode without skipping a beat.
Deep Blue Something isn’t simply saturated in light, breezy pop tunes, however. In a somewhat jarring effect, “Parkbench” is followed by a foray into the techno-rock of Jesus Jones, EMF, and maybe even PWEI on “Page Me Wolverine”. Whispy techno beats and keyboards give way to a blistering guitar chorus of screamed vocals. The thick, muddy sounds of album-opener “Military Man” have a plodding, post-grunge feel like swimming in a sea of soupy guitars. “So Precious” is buttressed by the use of Latin horns, “Burning a Past” is filled with big, jangling guitars sounds that erupt into huge arena jam-band pop, while the album closer “Beautiful Nightmare” verges on slipping into ska.
If there’s a consistent influence on Deep Blue Something it’s the impact of British music on the Pipes boys. If “true” Britpop is dead, then its spirit lives on in Deep Blue Something. Which is actually no small feat considering the band is from Texas and not the UK. However they came by their influences and their musical chops is of no consequence really, since they pull the whole package off so well. While any album that jumps from sound to sound, influence to influence, so quickly has the danger of being inconsistent, its Todd and Toby’s vocals that hold the whole thing together and allow the album to work. At times the sweet, lilting voices seem a bit out of place, but each time they catch your attention they draw you in until they seem perfectly natural, while giving the album a thread of consistency. They finally succeeded with the balancing act that failed on Home. The end result is that the disc winds up sounding like listening to your favorite alternative (when there was such a thing) or college radio station circa 1992.
While Deep Blue Something face new challenges in re-creating themselves in the 21st century, it will be a shame if having their window of opportunity closed off by legal troubles years ago means they’ve missed their chance. It happens to a lot of bands, but the strength of Deep Blue Something shows that it would be a true loss in this case. If you ever had an interest in indie pop and college rock between 1985 and 1995, pick up this disc and give it a shot. Chances are you’ll thank yourself.
// Notes from the Road
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