[14 July 2004]
It’s easy to kick at the Gin Blossoms because their success so far outstripped their talent. From about 1993-1996, their songs were hurtled at the radio like wet spaghetti as A&M kept hoping for a repeat of “Hey Jealousy”. With only two really worthy radio songs to their credit (though both are really credited to Doug Hopkins, the guitarist they kicked out before they broke through), the second being better than the first and both being much better than anything they wrote without said guitarist, and filler songs that tried but never really did, they figure to never get any real respect even as “Hey Jealousy” figures to keep pulling in the royalties thanks to spins on MIX radio.
Mediocre power pop, maybe by definition, possesses little back bone, so stripping away at what’s left of it, as the Gin Blossoms really did, leaves you with limp outlines for songs that are out of ideas half-way through the first chorus but which repeat their hollow hooks for usually two more verses and three more choruses. I personally find it to be about the most self-indulgent and deflating kind of music there is. At its very best, the songs will be catchy but never really inspiring, and if power pop can’t make you get up and run around the room or shift to a higher gear when it comes on the radio, caffeinated from a guitar hook or a melody line or a perfectly dropped drum fill, what’s the point of it? Had the Gin Blossoms never gotten so popular, had their music and videos not been spun to death, history might have looked kinder upon them.
“Hey Jealousy”, just as a straight-up pop song, works wonders. It hints at just enough depth to keep it from being purely a guilty pleasure but it’s hobbled by a sound that is so hilariously ready for mainstream radio that nothing gets left to the imagination. Head to head, I like “Found out about You” better but when it was released as the band’s second single it was a pretty clear sign that they were a one-trick pony. Marshall Crenshaw’s name lent some credibility to “Til I Hear It from You”, which starts off harmlessly enough but gets sabotaged by a fall-apart bridge that leads in with a lyric (“I can’t let it get me off”) whose delivery has always just always struck me as gross.
Maybe what this collection reveals most is how the band was completely unable or unwilling to break out of their self-imposed formula. It’s almost startling how the ideas get rehashed from song to song and this becomes particularly evident when they’re heard back to back instead of broken-up on the radio. It must really stick in the band’s craw that they’ll never really get out of Doug Hopkins’s shadow, but nothing here makes much of a case for any other point of view. His four songs here are the best, though they’re built from most of the same bits that make-up “Hey Jealousy” (“Lost Horizons” uses the guitar line and “Pieces of the Night” the bass line; both use the same harmonies as “Found out about You”). For the other songs, the vocal hook on “Follow You Down” isn’t bad, though the lyrics and harmonica part are, and I’ve always liked “Until I Fall Away”. Still, as the songs snowball, they come across as so adult-contemporary that you just start to feel a little gross. By the time “As Long As It Matters” gets its spin, the harmonies sound nice for about one line and then they can turn your stomach because you realize that what these guys developed into was a scruffy-faced take on Wilson Phillips. Thanks, but no thanks.