[10 January 2011]
Over the course of 20 years, Guster – the original trio of guitarists/vocalists Ryan Miller and Adam Gardner and percussionist Brian Rosenworcel – has released six CDs. Three to four years have passed between the group’s last three respective recordings, however, and it has been four years since they dropped Ganging Up On The Sun. Over the past 10 years, though, the band has evolved from an eccentric acoustic trio into a full-blown pop band, which is abundantly clear on Easy Wonderful, Guster’s most hook-laden record to date.
Opener “Architects and Engineers” sets the tone decidedly as the most radio friendly and mainstream song the band has written. A booming kick drum anchors Miller and Gardner’s buoyant vocal chorus of “Oooooooo” and a heartily strummed acoustic guitar and jubilant piano. The same can be said of “Do You Love Me”, with a chorus of “Do do do do do, do do do do do do do” four times over. Here, however, the lyrics belie the song’s poppy musical melody; a lover questioning a partner’s fidelity.
There is joyful exuberance to be found in the songwriting, as “This Could All Be Yours” makes blissful reference to Idol worship—“Opportunity, the Americany Dream/It’s in the radio/it’s superstars”, while “Bad Bad World” intones that everything would be alright if we all just sing the world a song—“Take these melodies/With your hands/Write a song to sing/It isn’t such a Bad Bad World/And I say whoo who hoo hoo hoo”.
Lyrically, there is turmoil of broken relationships hidden under layers of harmonious musical pop. Amid a lush string section, youthful melodica, and bubbly hand percussion, “This Is How It Feels To Have A Broken Heart” compares an ordinary life—a couple’s life together becomes “…the mess we’ve made”—to the feeling of a broken heart. And the dulcet ukulele and buoyant horns on “What You Call Love” go against the every day struggles of making a relationship work.
Several songs stray from the pop sound, offering a hushed tone and deal lyrically with a religious undercurrent. Amidst somber strings and piano, the chorus of “On The Ocean” imparts struggles in life via turbulent, stormy waters, while in the verses, the writer contemplates if what he has accomplished will last. On “Stay With Me Jesus”, the songwriter praises Jesus for saving his life multiple times: his mother dying at child birth, a car crash with only one survivor, a plane that disappeared. And “Jesus and Mary” is a steady, cadence marching drum beat replete with a sweet whistle, yet lyrically, it’s a condemnation of the news regarding the war in the middle east we’re all bombarded with seven days a week. Sullen strings and a gently plucked mandolin haunt the harrowing “Hercules”.
In its progression towards becoming a full-blown pop band, Guster has added a full drum kit. While Rosenworcel’s hand percussion is still heard throughout the recording, the aim here is clearly a mainstream, radio friendly sound. With Easy Wonderful, Guster has attained that perfect pop rock sound, yet hasn’t abandoned its roots as an acoustic trio.