[24 April 2003]
It’s easy to crack on the progeny of rock legends who follow their famous fathers into the music biz. Not too many people blink an eye at writing off Julian Lennon as doing a poor John Lennon impersonation, or feel bad about criticizing Jakob Dylan for treading a far more well worn path than his father did. So it would be easy (though incredibly lazy) to dismiss Everything Will Never Be OK, the debut release from Fiction Plane, a band led by Sting’s son, Joe Sumner, as just another lame second-generation attempt at stardom. But it would also be pointless, especially because there are plenty of other, more valid reasons to dismiss it.
Now, although my musical proclivities generally lie elsewhere, I’m not immune to the charms of regular old Top 40 alterna-rawk. I’ve been known to sing along to a Lifehouse song when I’m alone in the car, or to defend the merits of a Stone Temple Pilots single, or even to watch a Creed video all the way through (well, just that once). But Fiction Plane don’t even rise to the tolerable-as-long-as-you’re-not-paying-for-it level. I’ll admit right off that I was prejudiced against this album from practically the first sung note, since singer/guitarist Sumner has my least favorite kind of male singing voice. It’s the kind of voice I associate almost exclusively with hair metal and classic rock: growly in the bottom registers and screechy on the high ones. When he hits the higher notes he sounds a lot like a younger and less talented Chris Cornell, which, I guess, some people might appreciate. I don’t.
Perhaps if I could get around my distaste for Joe Sumner’s vocal style, I would like Everything Will Never Be OK a little better, but Fiction Plane don’t give me much else to focus on. The musical accompaniment—provided by Sumner, his bandmates bassist Dan Brown and guitarist Seton Daunt, and some session musicians—is fairly standard, uninteresting stuff, all set to a relentlessly driving beat. A few musical lines stand out, mainly for incongruously resembling something else, like the goofy guitar riff on “Listen to My Babe” that reminds me of “Footloose”, or some of the bright guitar lines on “Real Real” that sound a lot like the ones in “Closing Time” by Semisonic, but for the most part it all runs together. It’s conceivable that a formulaic song like “Soldier Machismo” could become a hit, but considering the sorry state of rock radio at this point in time (the art rock and garage bluster of the “The” bands notwithstanding), I don’t consider that indicative of artistic merit.
Fiction Plane’s lyrics are another problem area, consisting of half-hearted tirades and surface-level angst, not to mention cliches and other overused song conventions that signal a clear lack of inspiration. Any band that can still use the words “love” and “crime” in the same breath (especially after freakin’ O-Town mined that tired analogy a couple years back) doesn’t win any points for originality from me. Other examples include “poor me” stuff like “We’re cool we’re different / And we hate things / Yeah we hate things / We hate people”, “Fuck yourself and fuck your cigarette”, and “I won’t be a stepping stone / To any kind of bullshit throne”. Such lyrics just don’t do it for me, especially since Fiction Plane’s songwriters are in their twenties, not their teens, and should be able to come up with something more nuanced at this point in their lives.
Actually, the only thing I almost like on Everything Will Never Be OK is the hidden track at the end, which starts out really promisingly, all hushed and swirly. Unfortunately, it too ends up at the squealy, hard rockin’ place of the rest of the album, and brings an awful, preachy chorus (“Don’t tell me that you fight for principles”) along with it. All in all, it’s a locale I recommend staying away from.