Way back in 1999, Cherry Twister’s brand of breezy power-pop was a big hit with critics and listeners alike. Now that their highly melodic pop has become something of a recent memory, the assumption has been that Steve Ward was the creative fuel that had propelled that vehicle (verified somewhat by Ward’s highly melodic solo outing in 2000, Opening Night). Though he had authored one tune on At Home With Cherry Twister and had helped contribute to seven others, bassist Michael Giblin had somehow managed to avoid the spotlight. Most people saw him as a talented musician, performing his parts well and, while contributing some, not a major creative force.
This is one reason Oblivious comes as such a pleasant surprise. Parallax Project is Michael Giblin’s solo outing, and it cuts through a wide swath of pop/rock styling, serving up 13 tracks of enjoyable melodic diversion. As it turns out, Giblin is second fiddle (or bass) to no man. Perhaps while acting as musical helpmeet to others (Cherry Twister, Steve Ward, Jeffrey Gaines, Dan Kibler), he quietly was saving up nice material for himself. On behalf of an unaware public, let me apologize now—Michael, we never knew.
While not really a follow-up to Cherry Twister, Parallax Project does offer the occasional reference in its more upbeat tracks. Honestly though, Giblin has assembled a separate entity that forges its own musical identity here, with ballads and rockers and mid-tempo tunes that recall pop sounds of the past in fresh ways. Giblin’s vocals are never less than pleasant, and his bass work is strong as always (he also contributes guitars, keyboards, percussion and some expert glockenspiel).
Giblin has assembled an impressive complement of musicians for this Parallax Project: Robby Crawford (who drums for Lisa Loeb) drives the rhythms, and guitarists include Boston’s David Minehan (The Neighborhoods, Paul Westerberg) and Pete Kennedy (The Kennedys, Nanci Griffith). Jeffrey Gaines and Dan Kibler make cameo appearances as well, while Steve Ward helped mix the CD, returning favors for a musical friend.
The proceedings open with drums paving the way for the hard-driving guitars of “Just Like Yesterday”, a melodic sort of jangly guitar/‘70s Brit-pop tribute to the perfection of small lives, topped off by a coda of “Good Day Sunshine”. This is the uneventful story of Edward and Kathy, wherein nothing happens to change their little world around and all remains safe and sound: “We talk about the things to do / We talk about the things to say / How to make a busy day / Just like yesterday”. Giblin captures well the unobtrusive details of this idyllic daily humdrum (from feeding the cat to picking out what to wear to boarding a train, etc.) and does it via a catchy tune.
“Take a Walk” is a softer ballad, ringing guitars echoing romantic notions sung while walking down an empty street at season’s end: “Do you think that we could float above? / Do you think that we could fall in love? / How I want to tell you / If I could just compel you / And I can feel you want to / Watch the ocean in between us disappear”.
Perhaps the most infectious song here is “To the Moon”, evidence that Cherry Twister owes more of a debt to Giblin than previously known. This is great hook-filled driving pop (particularly the ascending line into the chorus), loaded with the crunchy guitars of David Minehan. In contrast to the upbeat melody, the lyrics tell a tale of two who have reached a plateau of non-communication as familiarity breeds contempt: “A simple circumstance and everything’s in pieces / Another second chance, but we hold it in, the silence just increases / To the moon and back again / The distance of the space we’re in / And every day is still the same and who’s to blame”.
“Sometimes” is a pleasant mid-tempo number that trades on the treble ringing Byrds-like 12-string guitar of Pete Kennedy. This is yet another tale of a relationship fallen apart, and what comes after. The lyrical twist is the context of musical references: “The verses all became the same / The chorus once so strong made plain / When the music sounded wrong, they knew their time had come and gone”. Giblin offers us optimism, at any rate: “Sometimes nothing seems to rhyme / The emptiness of what comes after / Sometimes she pictures in her mind / A place that she can fill with laughter / She’s okay”.
Giblin and pals show us a more acoustic/folky side with the contemplative musings of “City Rain”. The bass line really holds things together, as “pleasure pain and city rain” keep him awake to sing, “Yesterday is just a memory, tomorrow’s still a threat / I want to run outside and get myself soaking wet”.
“Step Right Up” is a jazzy, more eclectic number whose harmonies and chorus recalls Graham Gouldman’s Hollies’ classic “Bus Stop”. Lyrically, it’s advice to a lonely young girl with great potential (“a string of pearls in a chain of fools”) to be all that she can be.
Perhaps the lyrical nadir (in my opinion) comes with “When I Die”, a song co-written with photographer Violet Turner. The song plays off a haunting and repetitious guitar riff as it tells how dying wouldn’t nearly be so hard if he comes back as: 1) her bass guitar, 2) her steering wheel and 3) the color green. While a pretty song, these lyrics just don’t work very well within the context.
Just when you think it’s going to be slower stuff for the rest of the CD, “Definitely Maybe” comes bursting out of the speakers. Giblin gives us a sing-along anthem-rocker that reminds us of the best of the 1970s. “(If It’s) All the Same to You” is Giblin unplugged, guitar and vocals with tasteful strings added to later verses. This is yet another poignant recounting of a relationship/friendship gone awry.
I hear a definite Steve Ward-type influence to the song “Where You Been”, which features some nice Hammond organ from Matt Thomas. “Throw It All Away”, the melancholy closer here (an ode to younger days and dreams), advances with strongly strummed guitar chords and clean punchy bass (and don’t forget that glockenspiel).
While even the press release for Parallax Project admits that it won’t make a difference in the world, this is an impressive debut effort from Giblin and Tallboy Records. There is talent in abundance here, and plenty of torn relationships too: Oblivious seems anything but. Giblin knows how to make pretty power-pop in the old-fashioned way. If sweet guitars and nicely crafted pop tunes make your day, this one gives you a generous 56 minutes worth.
// Notes from the Road
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