The Good Life: Black Out

[8 April 2002]

By Steve Lichtenstein

The development of British rock has gone through a long evolution. Most would consider the Beatles, Stones, Kinks, The Who, The Clash and The Sex Pistols amongst the torchbearers of its more common variations, the trendsetters. Fair enough. No argument here. But the development of moody, brooding British mush has been more recent in coming. Most would consider The Cure and The Smiths as the standards here. Again, agreed. And with both of these Anglo genres there’s bound to be a considerable amount of similar-sounding outfits over time. How often can you reinvent something, especially when that something is a bona fide sound? And at this point, is it even necessary? So when you hear Black Out, the second full-length from one-time Cursive front man Tim Kasher and his new band, The Good Life, you can’t help but think instantly of The Cure. And like so many other derivative bands (which is, essentially, all of them), the likeness doesn’t matter. Good is good is good.

The startling thing about Kasher and The Good Life isn’t that they sound like The Cure, it’s just how much they sound like The Cure. This isn’t any sort of mild similarity. This is full-blown mimicry. The bouncy spunk of “The Beaten Path” feels freshly plucked from Wild Mood Swings and reeks like Robert Smith in an onion stew. But it’s Kasher’s voice that holds everything together; all the other pieces just seem to fall nicely in place. If it wasn’t for his buttery croon, the end result of Black Out might be as disjointed as the Cure would have been with, say, Rowan Atkinson on vocals.

All this aside, The Good Life is nonetheless an American affair, calling Omaha, Nebraska home. Whether or not it all sounds domestic is another story, but it’s this sort of apple pie mentality that steadies guitar chugging anthems like the wistful “Some Bullshit Escape” and the folky “Early Out the Gate”.

But Yankee or not, it’s a British sense of flighty despair and studio tomfoolery that adds the crucial layer separating this album from another middling, lonesome whine. Stripped to its skivvies, “Early Out the Gate” boasts not much more than a simple guitar, piano and drum line. Throw in the looping beeps and digital burps, though, and you’ve got something infinitely more engaging, an elixir for the lonely headphone listener. Ditto for “The New Denial”, with its broken drumbeat and otherwise sparse arrangement.

The digital bits could pass for unnecessary, but rarely does it seem that way. It’s on stale, aimless tracks like “I Am an Island” and “After O’Rourke’s, 2:10 a.m.” where a little something extra, a quirky blip here, a drippy squeal there, might inject some much needed character.

But no matter. Like any engaging album, Black Out has something which winds through every song to prove its merit. If it’s not great guitar or drumming, or pristine production, it could be, like it is here, strong vocals. All comparisons notwithstanding (honestly, it might take some ID to believe that this isn’t Robert Smith, and this isn’t a new album from the Cure), Kasher’s voice is a force to behold, simultaneously bearing the weight of the world’s problems and coming across as airy as a beach ball. “You try too hard for the perfect beginning, you’re so let down / When the beauty starts fading,” Kasher moans on the album’s opening and title track. Listen all the way through and, similarities or not, it’s hard to imagine that the beauty could ever diminish. Black Out is about as close to a letdown as Mr. Bean is to a Mercury Award.

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