Hello music scholars. Remember the ‘90s group Jenny Thing? I don’t, but apparently that’s where Matt Easton cut his chops across three albums. Supposedly they echoed the Cure and New Order at times. As far as his new Love Ambition Demo goes, the Red House Painters are being name-dropped on the sidelines. And did I mention the Smiths have also had their name called out in relation to this release? Sorry. I was too busy trying to see if there was any original Matt Easton sound coming through. After listening to this demo a few times though, I can safely say the answer to that is the Great Big No.
The Muse’s Muse claims that “What this guy calls a demo most veterans would be happy to have on a platinum-selling CD”. This is what we call “spin doctoring” in our line of work. I’m as guilty of it as the next music critic when it comes to something I really love and want you to rush right out and buy. But I tend to notice that the more melodramatic raves often go to releases such as Easton’s which show a sparkle of talent here and there, but for the most part don’t live up to the hype (by the way, if I am guilty of such writings, please address all complaints to your local CVS or Stop ‘N Shop).
You can read down the little Matt Easton info page and see that similar-sounding artists would include Michael Penn (not really), Jeff Buckley (a bit of a stretch), and Elliott Smith (not a chance). Matt has also shared the stage with the Gin Blossoms and Juliana Hatfield (both of whom are filed in the Indie Also-Ran category currently). The “Why You Care” section gives this explanation: “Matt writes great songs and has a cool voice”. Well if that doesn’t make a believer out of you, then get ready to hold thy breath a little longer when you play the disc and listen to the actual music.
Now allow me to name-drop a few groups here. When I listen to the opening cut “The Promise”, I hear a mixture of Andrew Gold (you know, he had “Lonely Boy” back in the ‘70s and was also teamed up with Graham Gouldman in the ‘80s as one-half of Wax UK) and a slight hint of Toad the Wet Sprocket. There’s some nice elements to the song, even if the lyrics are a bit self-important in spots. On the other hand, “Save Me from Myself” brings to mind Level 42 at their soulful best. Not a bad comparison at all in my mind. But from there, Love Ambition Demo gets a bit wigged-out.
Easton does indeed have a powerful voice, but all too often he comes off as one of those vocalists who wants to make sure you remember that he is a vocalist (Christina Aguilera is extreeeeemely guilty of this). Add to that the tremendously verbose lyrics of the remaining three tunes (“Bloodstone”, “All My Dreams”, and the syrupy “Angelmouth”) and the demo takes a bit of a sharp dive from having some promise to being another “don’t call us, we’ll call you” disc that you often see getting thrown into the bottom of a big drawer in some record exec’s offices in “funny” movies about the music biz.
It’s not that the lyrics are terrible, it’s just that these songs can’t carry them. The generally sparse and airy music doesn’t really lend itself as a strong support for the words. Bob Dylan Easton ain’t. “We came from far away / All the big cities’ lost towns / Stopped at the ocean for jobs / Followed the company down / We forgot who we knew / Hazy and cold all around / Beautiful couple they met / Tenderloin speakeasy street / Gathered up mostly cute friends / In just a matter of weeks” goes “Angelmouth”. What? Tenderloin speakeasy street? Did I hear that right? Yeah well, that’s what you get to grapple with all throughout Love Ambition Demo. If that’s not enough, then perhaps the way “All My Dreams” never seems to end will have your toes tapping.
Easton seems talented, but a change of direction wouldn’t hurt him any. After a while, the five songs here all start to sound a bit the same. So it goes. Given that, Love Ambition Demo never reaches beyond the demo status. I have no knowledge of the Jenny Thing or how Matt sounded in that group, but apparently they weren’t this low key. So Easton got himself some studio time and dusted off his guitar. Nice attempt here, but it’s going to take a little more effort next time around to really make a lasting impression. So far, Easton only has his Love Ambition Demo and a list of artists from yesteryear to compare him to that ultimately did a far better job.