Birmingham’s Nineteen Forty-Five give it everything they have for I Saw a Bright Light. But the disc, mostly comprised of upbeat, straight-ahead rock songs, comes out sounding not quite as exciting as intended. The band give it their all on every track. It’s undeniable that they’re emotionally invested in their music and that they take things with an appropriate level of seriousness (though they err slightly on the wrong side of the “this is all in stupid fun” vs. “expression of my cosmic pain” equation). They’re good enough to separate themselves from the unrelenting throng of bad bands, but it isn’t really made clear what distinguishes them from the hundreds of other bands who fall into the “good but not necessarily all that interesting” category. Not particularly bad, there just aren’t enough quirks or moments of real inspiration in their songs to really make things memorable. It’s a frustrating middle ground that provides little to latch onto.
Matching boy/girl vocals are the order of the day and the group establishes their sound early on, rarely deviating from it through the course of the disc. The drumming, by Will Lochamy, is propulsive enough to keep things moving along, but the songs overall lack of atmosphere and variety in sounds, in mood, in emotional intent can start to make things feel a bit claustrophobic and limited. Still, front man Hunter Manasco has enough gravel in his vocals to give the band a reasonably good shot at radio popularity and their best songs are good enough to stick in your head.
“She Takes Drugs” opens the album with a hit of the energy that they try to put across but it gets undermined by their insider lyrics. “The Police Let Her Get Away” is the strongest of the bunch; it’s the song that best manages to tie the elements of their sound into the neatest package. This is more concise lyrically than most, a little more content to stick with the hook, and the band’s playing is at its most limber. “Living on the Waves” is the best of their jilted lover songs, which bogs down the disc’s second half, resulting in some cumbersome lyrics and a bitter leftover taste. It all gets to be irritatingly self-centered and off-putting. As a result, it’s easy to feel encouraged early on when Manasco declares that he’ll be “The summer clothes she wears on the beach / Lying out on a sheet reading Sylvia Plath” (“Sylvia Plath”). But, by the time you get to “I know somewhere’s a girl who would wear hot pants and right now that might not be so bad to have around” (“Halo”), you’re worn out.
The band strips down their amplifiers for a few songs, but there is consistently something missing. Even the acoustic songs can come off as too one-sided. On top of that, it’s a bit mind-boggling as to why bassist Katherine McElroy’s only lead vocal is buried on the disc’s hidden track. Framing it the way they do demotes the song to a “let’s let the girl bass player sing one” novelty. Increasing her role may have a gone a long way to breaking up the repetitiveness that ends up dulling things out. With few surprises from song to song, the burden falls onto the songwriting to keep the ship afloat; while it’s good in spots, it isn’t consistently strong enough to carry the day. Lyrically and musically, it feels like they’re reaching for a maturity that is still out of their grasp. Their words come across as being grounded in little else besides a sophomore level Creative Writing class and there just aren’t enough ideas to really fill up the whole disc. I Saw a Bright Light indicates that Nineteen Forty-Five are perhaps capable of eventually producing some credible, radio-ready rock. There are seeds from which hooks may grow, but for now the band remain a little un-engaging.