Granted, the Special Goodness aren’t a math rock band, but let’s do a little math rock anyway. What do you get when you add Pat Wilson from Weezer and Atom Willard, formerly of Rocket from the Crypt? Well, it’s a trick question, because there are several answers. The short answer is, Land Air Sea, duo’s sophomore disc. The glib answer is, A band that is less than the sum of its parts, and the slightly less glib answer is, An independently released vanity project that should have stayed that way, but got picked up for a wide release by Epitaph Records.
The cynic in me thinks that I wouldn’t even be reviewing this album if some dude from Weezer weren’t involved. This collection of warmed-over power pop wouldn’t have shown up on anyone’s radar if it weren’t for Wilson’s day job as Weezer’s drummer. I suppose Wilson has to do something while waiting for Rivers Cuomo’s nest spell of graphomania, but to foist this album on an unsuspecting populace sullies the Weezer name (yes, I know: Cuomo did that with The Green Album. I don’t want any angry letters).
If you wanna get down to brass tacks, Land Air Sea was actually released on Wilson’s own label, N.O.S., back in March of 2003. Normally, with a small, home-recorded album, that’s where the story ends. But it’s all in who you know, and somehow the album landed in the hands of Epitaph’s Brett Gurewitz, who deigned to release the album on his label, after some remixing by Joe Barresi, who has worked with Weezer, circa Pinkerton.
Of course, Barresi is only as good as the materials he’s given to work with. Wilson’s flat, plain voice is evocative of Built to Spill’s Doug Martsch at its best (“Pardon Me”), emo-whiny at its worst (“You Know I’d Like…”). And you’d think that Wilson could have picked up a catchy guitar hook that might have fallen out of Rivers Cuomo’s back pocket, but unfortunately that doesn’t seem to be the case. The album’s first six songs blur together—they’re upbeat and fist pumping, sure, but so are John Edwards and Howard “Yeaagh!” Dean, and nobody’s looking to rock out with them. This is picky, but additional points are deducted because “Day in the Autumn” sounds way too summery.
At best, the songs on Land Air Sea are three-minute-long delivery systems for some decent guitar solos. At first, the solos are a tad jarring—on unassuming opener “You Know I’d Like…” Wilson pulls back the curtains and unveils a solo straight outta “November Rain”—then they grow on you (after all, who can’t appreciate a guitar solo in a three-minute pop song?), and finally you realize the solos all sound alike. That might work for Dave Davies on “All Day and All of the Night” and “You Really Got Me”, but then Davies all but invented punk with those solos and the Special Goodness amount to guitar solo wankers.
A few tunes do stand out from the pack. “Whatever’s Going On” benefits from being the first tune to ease up off the gas—though it is the seventh track, and by then you’ve already decided whether to junk or crunk the album. “Pardon Me” is literally about good manners—it’s the most polite pop song since “Please Please Me”. And “Inside Your Heart” is as cheesy as a song with such a title could be, but it also boasts their most soaring chorus and is probably the album’s best track.
In a world populated by ace power poppers like Fountains of Wayne, Brendan Benson and heck, even Weezer, there’s no need for the middling power pop that Wilson and Willard are trafficking. These guys’ résumés have earned them the right to do as they please, but they should keep it to themselves. Weezer fans are a delicate bunch as it is; to offer this sub-par release from a side project is just cruel.