Not too long after the recent Live 8 concerts, the inevitable backlash against the musicians began. Editorials sprang up in newspapers criticizing the artists for being blindly optimistic, with many writers adding that musicians don’t know the first thing about politics and should stay within the realm of entertainment. Then came the vitriol from several conservative talk show hosts, who ridiculed Sir Bob Geldof and Bono for thinking that a rock concert could save the future of a continent. Some even went so far as to blame the second round of London bombings on Tony Blair, who, according to these hosts, was too busy “placating Bono” at the G8 summit to fight terrorism back in London. These statements might sound crass and ignorant to many, but they raise an age-old question: can music change the world or are such attempts self-righteous posturing by egomaniacs with guitars and leather pants?
San Francisco’s Tremolo would answer no, and they’re willing to put their money where their mouths are. With their debut, Love is the Greatest Revenge, ready to hit the stores in August, Tremolo have created the Love>Revenge Fund, a fund that allows fans to decide which organizations will receive fifty percent of their profits. On the fund’s website, Tremolo call their debut album “an auto-biographical social commentating post-deconstructionist protest record” that asks “what if love was the greatest revenge” and “music could change the world?” This is a very fancy way of saying that the album addresses social issues and the band wants to make the world a better place. All of this sounds very noble, if not naively ambitious and post-graduate English major, but there’s only one problem: the album is decent, but certainly not a protest record that will inspire revolution. Several of the songs on Love is the Greatest Revenge are adult contemporary love ballads, the kind that make their way into movies during the scenes when the charming, heartbroken protagonist walks through the rain before winning back the hand of his beloved. The other songs on the album are mid-tempo rockers, none of which openly deal with social concerns. Such songs have their place, but Steve Earle they ain’t. Unfortunately for Tremolo, no revolution starts now.
This isn’t to say Love is the Greatest Revenge doesn’t possess some gems. On the contrary, when Tremolo find a groove, the results are infinitely enjoyable. Take “I Believe (Love is the Greatest Revenge)”, which is so full of hooks that it sounds immediately familiar.
This might also have something to do with the song’s overt Beatles influence; the song begins with the lulling guitar strum that Lennon perfected (a la “Across the Universe”), features a majestic melody in the chorus, and hits its climax with dreamy slide guitar over a slow, stately beat. Lead singer Justin Dillon also does his best Lennon voice, all nasal delivery of syllables that slide into one another. The song is so close to its inspiration that it’s nearly an impersonation, but it’s gorgeous nonetheless. Tremolo takes the slow swell and applies it with equally pleasing results to other songs, such as “Promise Ring,” in which Dillon sings with a fragile falsetto over surging strings. In spite of the lyrics, which are so sappy they’re embarrassing (“Can’t you see / Love is more than what it seems / So I wear your promise ring”), the song is both ethereal and catchy.
When Tremolo ventures into faster fare, however, the results are often disappointing. They sound like they want to rock real gritty, but don’t just quite have the grit to pull it off. Songs like “Evil Twin” and “We Are the New Black” are full of guitar licks, but they sound more Train or Matchbox 20 than T-Rex. This is to say the guitar licks are benign, void of sting or punch. Of course, these are exactly the kind of songs that could make Tremolo a big name, but there’s nothing worse than blue-eyed soul that falls flat.
Tremolo’s biggest shortcoming is that they have no distinctive sound. The ten songs on the album sound like they could have been written and performed by ten different bands. Perhaps this is because Tremolo’s lineup is comprised of people who have all played in other bands, or maybe it’s because Justin Dillon is still finding his voice as a songwriter. Still, with at least four or five solid tunes, Love is the Greatest Revenge is a fair debut. As to whether it’s an “auto-biographical social commentating post-deconstructionist protest record,” I can’t help but think that Woody Guthrie wouldn’t care much for fancy literary jargon. And as to whether poppy love tunes and mid-tempo rockers can save the world well, let’s just appreciate them for what they are and leave it there.