The cover art for the Grip Weeds’ recently remixed, remastered and re-released The Sound Is in You turns out to be an inadvertent warning of sorts. Featuring a swirling, distorted photograph of the band underneath a gaudy typeface that screams 1966, it cautions the innocent listener: Beware! You are about to experience a pedestrian revision of the Beatles, the Who, the Raspberries, and the Byrds. And if you think the cover art of The Sound Is in You is derivative and corny, then you might want to avoid the imagery that awaits you inside the booklet, where the faces of each band member are superimposed onto their instruments in they-can’t-be-serious-oh-but-they-are serious fashion.
While I’m on the subject of everything besides their music, this would be a good time to point out some of their particularly unfortunate song titles: “What I Believe Is You”, “Everything and All You Feel”, “I Can Hear the Grass Grow” (a cover of an old Move song). I understand that the Grip Weeds are unabashed fans of hippie era pop music, but could they be any more blatantly retro? Have I mentioned that they borrowed their band name from the Richard Lester movie How I Won the War, in which John Lennon played a character called “Private Gripweed?”
Ill-advised artistic and title choices aside, do the Grip Weeds manage to redeem themselves when it comes to the actual music? Do they manage to temper the emulation of their influences with enough imaginative spirit to make for compelling listening?
Unfortunately, this critic thinks not. Where their Rainbow Quartz label mate Outrageous Cherry turns its adulation of the very same psych-pop influences into richly pleasing recreations of the Byrds and the Kinks, the Grip Weeds somehow end up approximating . . . Nazz.
Does that name ring a bell? Unless you’re a big Todd Rundgren fan, it probably doesn’t. Nazz was Rundgren’s band before he went solo, and like the Grip Weeds, Nazz lacked a necessary ingredient to creating enduring pop songs: a distinct personality. The Kinks had in Ray Davies the working man’s poet. The Byrds boasted Roger McGuinn’s inimitably jangly guitar and beautiful, beatific harmonies. And the Beatles, well, they were the Beatles. Nazz, on the other hand, were a talented, at times even excellent, pop band. Yet their albums had that mysterious quality typified today by blockbuster action flicks—they tasted great going down, but once they ended, you had trouble remembering any of it.
Oddly enough, at its most enjoyable The Sound Is in You sounds strikingly similar to the uber-catchy power pop of the New Pornographers—sans dynamic keyboards and smart lyrics. At its least enjoyable—that is to say, far too much of the time—it is less palatable than its unforgivably insipid cover art.
The brothers Reil (Rick on guitar and vocals and Kurt on drums and vocals), who founded the band, have been at the songwriting game for a long time, and they have a knack for writing taut, energetic hooks. Lead guitarist Kristin Pinell and bassist Dennis Ambrose are capable supporting players, with Pinell laying down some particularly impressive guitar work on the not-bad-at-all “Better World” and equally acceptable “A Piece of My Own”. Conversely, Pinell is the perpetrator on the album’s most criminally bad track, a cover of Neil Young’s “Down to the Wire”, which begins with an AC/DC-like guitar line and then segues into a god awful mid-tempo classic rock riff with Pinell providing risibly awful lead vocals. Mercifully, it’s the only song on the album on which she assumes head singing duties.
The album’s most egregious offense is that it’s just too long. Clocking in at over 60 minutes with 19 tracks, there’s a lot of fat on this piece of meat. Lose seven tracks, and you may well have a worthwhile album on your hands. However, it’s going to take a lot more than brevity to make the Grip Weeds a band that leaves an impression. As decent as they are at what they do, it won’t make any difference until they learn how to be less like their forbears, and more like themselves.
// Notes from the Road
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