For whatever reasons I am deeply distrustful of young artists who seem to appear from nowhere fully formed, ready to rock the world, polished and spit shined to an immaculate sheen. I can’t really explain it with any precision. It’s a feeling that things that are worth a hoot steep in their juices a bit longer, seem to carry the dust of a struggle with discovering their sound. I just can’t imagine that even if they came of age during the peak of Nirvana-dom or Dookie-ism that there’s really any way that Thom Yorke or Jeff Tweedy or Bob Mould or Perry Farrell or John Darnielle or Pharrell or Dave Bazan or Ben Folds, hell, even Colin Meloy would under any conceivable circumstances turn out an album like Patience And Science. Perhaps all these comparisons are completely out of bounds. It’s entirely possible that these jaded old ears hear “typical” when they’re supposed to hear “fresh”. It’s without a doubt true that they simply shut down when presented with such oxymoronic phrases as “pop-punk”.
The story on Adam Richman is one that originates in isolation. Maybe that’s the problem. Growing up in Allentown, Pennsylvania Richman was reared on a pop culture diet that led him to hours in the family basement playing guitar and piano while poring ideas into a multi-track tape recorder. I suppose it could have been worse, we could’ve ended up with a steel town version of Ryan Adams. But instead we got a semi-emo popster who writes catchy choruses about clichéd situations and rhymes in succession “door”, “floor” and “whore”. It’s not that Richman isn’t a songwriter with some degree of merit. He plays every instrument on the album. He can write a hook and sing a catchy chorus four times before fading out, and I have to admit (because I’m a realist) that his brand of pop music will certainly attract some listeners like bugs to a zapper. But it’s simply striking in its unoriginality. So striking in fact that when I read in his press pack that he abandoned a collaboration with “a well established production company and major label session players” because he felt he was “losing grip on the unconditional creative control he was used to” I was shook to the core at the thought that Patience and Science could’ve been made to sound any blander or less memorable. And that in a nutshell is the goocher. It’s not that this album is “bad” in the sense that the playing stinks or the production is muddy or the execution of ideas is so maddeningly incomplete. On the contrary the songs are serviceable, performed well (though Richman’s emo-whine grates to no end) and polished up real purty. The problem is that there’s simply nothing interesting about a single note on this record. The songs are about as exciting as Richman’s faux Mohawk. This is music to be spoon fed to a willing demographic too young to be thinking critically (well, really at all) about the music they like.
I’ll ‘fess up that I may be holding Mr. Richman to an impossible standard for a 22-year-old. But there have been other 22-year-olds who have done challenging, exciting things within the confines of a catchy tune or a tortured lyric (see list in paragraph 1). If Richman is a “next big thing” at this stage of his career or anything more than a capable musician who pierced his lip and got a shot at the big time because he’s got swooney good looks, than everything we value as a society, indeed our whole human accomplishment to date, should be reevaluated. Of course I’ll regret writing those words the second he crashes into the Top 40 and flips me off from the stage as he receives his first MTV Music Award.
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