The opening strains of Signing Einstein are promising enough, sounding like a prog rock fantasy with feet in Pink Floyd’s general sound. When Gina Gonzalez’s gossamer voice opens up, things take a more soft rock, adult contemporary direction. But, hey, the opening track, “Edward Teach” is about pirates, so it’s got that going for it. Actually, between Joe Nuccio’s rumbling bass and guest guitarist Dave Uhrich’s riffage, it’s a pleasant bit of triple-A album rock.
But as things go on, the disc reveals its weaknesses too easily. There’s a lot to be said for mellow, soft music that washes over you instead of pummeling you with beats and chords. Signing Einstein isn’t trying to pretentiously pass itself off as anything more than it is, but it’s a narrow gap of music that they’re trying to squeeze into. Anchored primarily by Gonzalez’s voice, there are shades of Fleetwood Mac, Sarah McLachlan, and most prominently Natalie Merchant in each song. Gonzalez has, without a doubt, a gorgeously rich voice, but it can’t entirely save these tunes from being a bit dull. At their worst, musical team of Nuccio and keyboardist Vincent Varco sound too much like the watery backing tracks for an Enya song, and even hint towards Mannheim Steamroller at times.
The worst part is that this isn’t for a lack of talent. Each of the members of the band have an obvious amount of technical skill and are good musicians in their own right. Both bring decades of experience as members of various other collaborations to Signing Einstein. But there’s a definite lack of edge to these songs, something too polished and smooth. While the hooks are there, they’re so subtle that they’re imperceptible and don’t fulfill their function of keeping the ear interested.
Most infuriatingly, you can hear the promise of songs like “Heart Beating”, “Love, the Same”, and “The Prey of Nantahala Lake” to break out from their buttery consistency and really grab hold, but they never do. I have a great respect for the band that wears its eighties influences on its sleeve, but if you’re going to go against the grain of time so distinctly, you have to make more of an impression. Signing Einstein have what it takes to be a solid adult contemporary act that incorporates a distinct revivalism with proficient skill, but not if they remain in such an easy listening, background band mode.