It's All Been Done Before
Ken Kase can’t decide who he wants to be. Perhaps he wants to be a regular rock and roller. Maybe he’d like to tap into some ‘80s rock. No, maybe he’d like to do some rockabilly. Oh wait. I know who Ken Kase wants to be. Ken Kase would probably like to go down as the US’ very own Barenaked Ladies. Why, one look at The Ken Kase Group’s latest release Stereophonic Nervous Breakdown will bear this out. Don’t song titles like “An Achromat’s Tale”, “Everything Changes When You’re Old”, and “Insincere Apology” just sound downright BNL? Well, they do to me. And a quick glance at Ken Kase himself puts him right in the same bespectacled cuddly lead guy category as Steven Page. Yet no matter how much Ken Kase’s look and sound tries to be as eclectic and “fun” as that of his Canadian counterparts, the fact of the matter is Stereophonic Nervous Breakdown falls a few notes short of really being enjoyable.
The performance is tight enough. Handled well throughout by Kase on guitar and vocals, Greg Berg on keyboards, Dave Strohmeyer on bass and Paul Hoga on drums, the tracks that make up this album are polished, bouncy, and show some real talent. The main problem lies within Kase’s lyrics and his inability to edit himself. A lot of the songs here go on for far too long. Not “Stairway to Heaven” long, but long enough to have made me lose interest in the tunes a number of times. “Window” is especially guilty of this. Just as soon as you’re sure the song is over, it rears its head once more and barges through your speakers like an unwanted guest. On top of that, this same song is incredibly reminiscent of the kind of California rock that used to come out on the Burbank subsidiary label of Warner Brothers. By that I mean it’s slick and devoid of personality and glides along smoothly for four and a half mind numbing minutes. I was almost expecting to see “Produced by Larry Waronker” somewhere on the label.
Kase has another problem with his guitar. There’s something about its tone that just doesn’t settle right. A lot of times it comes off like a nagging three year old kid who’s begging you to buy him some ice cream. Kase’s guitar lines that run throughout “The Names of the Roses” just seem really out of place. The background vocals at the chorus are pretty grating as well. Yet once again Kase doesn’t learn how to use such devices tastefully, and winds up making “Insincere Apology” almost unlistenable thanks to the clamoring backing vocals which nearly take over the entire song. It’s just too distracting.
Apart from the vocals that don’t fit are Kase’s own lyrics. While some people can really pull off witty and wordy pop tunes (BNL again), Kase can’t seem to find a deep enough groove to settle his own words. The result is a bunch of songs that leave you feeling a bit lost by the time they reach the middle. Besides, the competent music blasted by The Ken Kase Group here just doesn’t really lend itself to clever words. This is your standard static college rock that is found in every college town. In this case, it just happens to be St. Louis. Apparently, the locals really dig Kase, but I find it hard to draw any real parallel between his band and “Elvis Costello, circa Get Happy!!!” as his press release would like me to do.
Stereophonic Nervous Breakdown is good for what it is, which is pleasant and harmless rock. You’ve heard it all before by all sorts of bands who have come and gone through the years. But until Kase finds his own voice and image, or sound and gimmick, or whatever it is that he’s trying to achieve, you’re going to be putting this one aside after a couple listens in favor of all the better and familiar stuff that The Ken Kase Group is aping here.
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