Is the thumbs-down photo on the cover a clever bit of self-criticism?
The ratio of mellow tunes to rocking numbers on Easy Way Out, the sophomore full-length from four-piece outfit Virgin Forest, is slightly more than 2:1. That's too bad, because it's exactly the opposite of what it should be. Virgin Forest play simple, straightforward music, with unsurprising chord progressions and lyrics whose repetitiveness borders on the inane. This can work just fine in a hard-charging, overdiven rock song. In a mellow acoustic-based number, though, such elements veer dangerously close to dullness. Such is the case here.
Easy Way Out opens with the monumentally ill-judged one-two salvo of "Don't Be Afraid" and "Different Blues," a couple of acoustic-guitar snoozers notable mainly for their remarkably repetitive lyrics. The first song, especially, features few if any words other than those in the title, intoned over and over and over and over and over by lead singer Scott Stapleton. Stapleton's voice is competent but hardly outstanding, so the recurring litany fails to do much besides reinforce the paucity of lyrical ideas on display.
Two songs in, then, the listener could be forgiven for wondering what else s/he has to listen to. Fear not, though: help is on the way, in the form of "Get Away," the record's best song by a mile. Here, the recurring chant of "Get away, get away, get away" makes perfect sense, invoking a sense of stoned-out urgency that punctuates the squalling bed of fuzzed-laden, protesting guitars. After the bland mediocrity of the first two songs, "Get Away" acts as a welcome slap across the chops, a blast of angst-driven attitude that — please, oh please — suggests more to come.
That's the good news. The bad news is that two more dull, unmemorable songs follow: "Big Old Mama" and "Song For Nino", which appears to be addressed to the singer’s dog. How cute! Not really.
"Easy Way Out" follows, and the album's title track is, happily, another fuzz-driven scorcher, but its 2:14 only teases the listener who is looking to settle into something for a while. By this point it has become apparent that the band's repertoire doesn't feature much in the way of extended solo jams or multi-part song structures. Okay, fine — but a bit more milking of the grooves that they do create would be mightily welcome.
"Home Alone" is a midtempo song whose country flair changes the album's texture somewhat, while "Lifted" brings us once again into ass-thumping, distortion-laden rock territory. With its almost industrial rhythms, off-the-wall vocal stylings and slamming percussion, "Lifted" is the album's second highlight, and the listener happily settles in for its four or five minutes to play out — only to be disappointed by a paltry running time of 1:59.
So it goes. "Antichrist Blues" sports a more complex sonic palette and engaging lyrics, but again is over too soon. "I Might Get High" ends the album as weakly as "Don't Be Afraid" starts it, with a forgettable midtempo tune devoid of hooks or musical interest of any sort. Even the band seems to lose interest, as the song, and the album, just withers away toward the end, with no conclusion or sense of finality.
For those keeping score, that's three good songs to seven mediocre ones, with all the good songs of the let's-rock-the-house-down variety. Virgin Forest seems committed to the alt-rock, folkie version of modern pop music, which is a shame. For a band that can kick out the jams as well as these guys do, it's too bad they can't work up the energy to do it more often.