[22 August 2007]
Keeper of Youth is the sophomore album of Josh Berwanger’s post-Anniversary outfit, the Only Children. Though the perpetual front-man stacks the deck with four Lawrence, Kansas legends and one hell of a back-story, the resulting effort comes across as shallow and limp. There are some bright spots: Two excellent singles clearly stand on their own. That said, very little can mitigate the damage done by a series of dramatic foot-shooting exercises.
In style, the Only Children’s output follows in the footsteps of the Anniversary’s second and last album, Your Majesty. The band’s sound continues beyond that album’s Zeppelin-worship toward Dylan-esque folk and southern-fried rock. Augmented by such luminaries as Ryan Pope (Get Up Kids), Bill Belzer (the New Amsterdams), Casey Prestwood (Hot Rod Circuit), and Berwanger’s wife, Heidi-Lynn Gluck (Some Girls), the arrangements on the album are solid. A few songs last a little too long; others have interesting ideas that don’t go anywhere. A good example of this is the reggae back-beat in “Hide Your Sorrow”. Nonetheless, the instrumentation won’t lose any listeners.
Josh Berwanger’s album was born out of an interesting period. After a disastrous tour for his first solo record, Berwanger called it quits and left Lawrence for Winnipeg, Canada. While there, he penned over 30 songs. Unfortunately, the ten he picked for Keeper of Youth are full of half-cooked, self-obsessive verses. And this is where the album fails: in its lyrics. Piss-filled tirades – such as third track “Amen Amen” – come across as juvenile and boring: “How long can you love a man who shoves his shit on you?”. The chorus of back-up singers on “Amen Amen” can’t salvage the sentiments of the disenfranchised listener. Even worse is “Dusty Magazines”, a song vilifying the reviewers that panned his first album: “Some shit head from LA writes for some shitty magazine, telling everyone my music ain’t up to par”. It is on this song that Berwanger truly shoots himself in the foot: Keeper of Youth really isn’t anything special. But without such a dramatic call-out, few would notice.
The challenge of “Dusty Magazines” is a shame for one other reason: the Only Children are capable of writing some solid numbers. Opener “Tired of this Town”, for instance, is a hit. It captures a rock and roll spirit championed by the Rolling Stones and the New York Dolls: dirty, loud, and on-target. And late favorite “1969” is a road movie waiting to happen. Unfortunately for the Only Children, these singles can’t save the rest an album mired in self-obsessed martyrdom and unrepentant sloth.