[6 February 2003]
I had a dream about The Music. No: I had a memory. It was the middle of last year, when a devious Capitol Records intern told me about this act, mentioned they’d be signing the label, and prodded me to listen to a few of their songs online. I did. And those brief minutes spun my mind into whirlwind and rendered me an instant and obsessive fan. For months I waited hungrily for this release, my excitement rivaling that of a child counting the days until her birthday. Their name—The Music. Their album—The People. My academic side reveled, too, in the complexity possessed in such linguistic facility. This was gonna be a big, important album, folks. I could feel it.
But there’s a reason that The Music seemed sweeter in retrospect. Well, there are actually two. The first is that the remembering mind is a blunter instrument than the mind in real time; recollections become gauzed, synapses firing toward a pleasant spot that has long since lost acute, pointed sweetness. In the case of music, this tendency is even more striking. Nothing is as awesome (or, potentially, as awful) as a song in real time, and thankfully perhaps, no matter how gifted we are in language or musical ability, human beings cannot recreate the entirety of that experience after the fact. Not even in thought.
The second, particular this case: along the way, something seems to have been robbed from The Music. Namely, the music. The People is a hollow release, the veneer of a good album covering up an otherwise unremarkable and sometimes disappointing collection of songs. Giving faith to my memory for a moment, someplace there is better material from this band. I’ve heard it, I swear! Unfortunately for us, very little of The People recreates that mystical magic.
To be sure, at every turn this album gestures toward greatness. The songs are of the cascading, oversized sorts that bubble like big, dangerous chemical reactions. You can hear light shows, as guitars are screeching, drums are firecracking, and the rhythms are pulsating defiantly as if somebody’s life depended on it. “Float”, a killer, bombastic tune, arrives at the album’s middle and punches you in the gut with its jabbing beat. “The Dance”, the opener, falls all over itself in a heady disarray, vocals burrowing underneath your skin and tunneling toward chaos, cymbals crashing everywhere. It’s energetic electronica crossed with serious rock, done in a style that’s 100% straightforward.
Sure, this description suffices, but it’s only half the story. In all these tactics is a cheapness, too, that can’t help but betray itself at every turn. Pardon a rather crude analogy, but listening to The People is like having sex with a hooker. A hooker can get away with not kissing you. A hooker doesn’t say “I love you.” A hooker can fake an orgasm. And no matter how wild, loud, and hot it gets, you know that all the maneuvering is just for show.
When a band has crowded their album with anthems, is anything really an anthem? “Take the Long Road and Walk It”, woven into an album showing some stylistic diversity, might be that one hyperbolic track that leaves a listener breathless, a testament to the great pomposity that can be rock and roll. Here, it’s just another opportunity to show off what The Music can’t do, which is play songs that feel genuine, that have a heart. “Human”, one of the album’s few slow tracks, is embarrassingly barren of emotional fluency or lyrical depth. The song is a repetitive trip of wide-mouthed crooning and guitar noise that takes the long route toward an easily accessible point, without any nifty scenery along the way.
The optimistic part of me would like to think The People is just an example of unwise choices. The great songs I remember hearing (I think) just didn’t make it, or made it in different versions, which is a problem that can be fixed upon The Music’s next go round. But the pessimist hears The People as ten attempts to create the perfect single. Subsequent listens only make the album feel and sound more and more like a formula. Robert Harvey sure does sound an awful lot like Robert Plant, or Tim Burgess, or any number of great British frontmen of history and current vogue. Which would be interesting if it weren’t so boring. The musical landscape does nothing but borrow tried-and-true tricks from the forebearers of great British rock and electronica, like the Chemical Brothers, the Charlatans, Zeppelin, Primal Scream. Of course, there is nothing wrong with paying homage to past (and present) greats—indeed, every band has its own musical bibliography—but listeners at least expect their bands to do something. Musical innovations. Lyrical turns. Anything. Instead, we have a band that seem to think that greatness comes somewhere between a distorted guitar jam and a couple of emphatic, rocker-style “yeahs.” And the production that at times reminds one of liveness doesn’t do the trick either—and instead feels like a gimmick to ensure that concertgoers find their on-stage versions as much like album versions as possible.
The crime of this album perhaps isn’t as dire as I’ve made it sound. Truth be told, The People is a mediocre, not an awful album, and it’s rare that a simply mediocre album leaves me with the completely dissatisfied sensation I feel at the close of The People. But here’s my theory: there’s a certain responsibility one has when they call their project something as ominous as The Music. Once upon a time, I believed—really believed—that The Music could live up to that challenge. A small part of me still does. But this release is not the one to convince me of that. This release is one that makes me wish The Music (and the music) could stay sequestered away in the hazy mire of my dreaming mind.
Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/music-people/