In terms of industry hype, expectation and delivery, modern rock is the new hair metal. Just as a succession of poodle-headed bands were signed, hyped and quickly dropped during the late ‘80s and early 1990s, a raft of new, spiky-haired, airbrushed bands have surfaced in the past couple of years with varying degrees of success. Some, such as Sony/Portrait’s Mars Electric barely even had the chance to release any music before they were unceremoniously dumped. Despite the change of century, it seems old habits die hard in the music industry.
North Carolina’s Far Too Jones is another example of this cycle, even though they are distinctly lacking in the spiky hair department. Having released their 1998 major label debut on Disney affiliate Mammoth, summer 2000 found the band with an album’s worth of new tunes but with a downsized record company that no longer supported them. So the band released the finished record themselves, and such is the strength of the material on Shame and Her Sister, it’s possible Far Too Jones will again experience the highs and lows of what constitutes a major label record deal these days.
With a blend of catchy, yet raw and edgy rock, Shame and Her Sister is one of the better records I have heard in this genre in the past couple of years. In terms of style, it doesn’t stray too far from familiar ground already covered by the likes of Matchbox 20 or Vertical Horizon, but at least with some high-energy guitar and old school rock attitude, Far Too Jones can’t be accused of making a wimpy, soulless record.
Opener “Nervous”, epitomises this approach and enables the band to kick off proceedings ferociously but with no lack of melody and appeal. From the outset, frontman Chris Spruill sounds a lot like Ed Kowalczyk, but has seemingly boundless energy and enthusiasm for the songs, and aided by a polished production by Howard Benson the band combines to produce a winning sound.
The quality and ferocity continues with the razor-sharp guitar intro of first single “Julianna” on which Spruill’s breathless, impassioned vocals stand out impressively. Another rocker, “Listen” follows in similar fashion demonstrating a neat turn of phrase with the line “Whatever doesn’t kill you only makes you wish it did”. Happier sentiments are saved for the commercially minded “Blown Away”, a good song spoiled by the presence of some truly awful and horrendously misplaced turntable scratching throughout the intro, taking the modern aspect of their music a bit too far.
Elsewhere, “Put Me On Your Mix Tape” is a nice take on the concept of pop super-stardom, and the alt-country of “The Ballad ff Mary” offers something a little different, proving not all FTJ’s songs are angst-fuelled rockers. Indeed, a couple of slower, more delicate tunes reveal a different, mature side to the band’s writing. The excellent “Trip Through You” wins points for the gradual build up to a rocking climax from acoustic roots, and wrestles with the exquisite re-working of ballad “Close To You” from the aforementioned Picture Postcard Walls for the award of best cut on the album.
In short, Shame And Her Sister is an accomplished record from a talented band whose energy and delivery manages to separate them from the host of mundane bands populating this genre. Whether or not Far Too Jones get another shot in an ever more competitive and merciless industry is another matter, but they’ve made a pretty good album all the same.
// Notes from the Road
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