[The following is a transcript of an internal conversation between the author and himself.]
"Ok, so what do we have here? It's A Beautiful Story, Vibro-Phonic's reissue of the debut album by Andrew (Sandoval, a singer/songwriter hailing from Los Angeles, California). The back of the disc promises 'an adventure in sound with accompaniment from the Orchestral Sounds'. If that wasn't enough, some A-list musicians make guest appearances, most notably Ric Menck of Velvet Crush, Calexico's John Convertino, Jon Brion, and Peter Holsapple of the dB's and R.E.M. fame. It's a veritable who's who of power pop -- and then some!"
"Yes, and according to the press release, Alternative Press exclaimed that the album is easily confused as 'an unreleased follow-up to Pet Sounds'. Comparisons to that album aren't tossed around lightly! I'm curious, though: why would an album that came out only four years ago get the reissue treatment?"
"Hey, Modest Mouse did it -- Andrew can too. This first song is showing some promise: the piano and bass sure do bop along like Brian Wilson. Andrew's voice is a bit timid, but that can work to his advantage on a song like 'Unrequited Life'. It makes him seem vulnerable and plays up the recurring motifs of loneliness and heartache. You just want to give him a hug, you know?"
"I don't know ... I think he's pandering for that hug! I can tell his voice is going to be a huge problem for me. For one thing, it's anemic; close your eyes and put some oomph into it! And doesn't it seem like he's learning these melodies for the first time as they're being sung? Almost like he's afraid to sing the next part for fear that he'll screw it up?"
"Perhaps you have a point, but didn't Bob Dylan already prove that a great voice doesn't equal impeccable pitch and delivery? Listen to the production instead, it's immaculate! The guitars ring with clarity, the drum tones are nearly perfect, and the subtle embellishments of handclaps and tambourines are well-placed. Without a doubt, Andrew graduated with honors from the School of Pop History. 'Wondering' borrows a drum pattern from 'Ticket to Ride'; 'Dream About You' draws its influence from Elvis Costello's Imperial Bedroom; 'What I Need' is vintage R.E.M. to the core; and 'Carousel' alludes to a Hollies tune, if only in title alone."
"Granted, the man knows his pop music. If only he could take those influences and craft something wholly unique. A Beautiful Story is chock full of musical references, but they're carbon copy blueprints, not a basis for something distinctly different."
"That's not entirely true; a song like 'Can't Go on This Way' transcends its influences. It has a complex, yet contagious, chord progression and some clever lyrics. 'No one could stop my train of thought / Or slow it down' is a good line."
"You want to talk about lyrics? Don't get me started. I sincerely believe that if Andrew were a stronger lyricist, many of my other reservations could be overlooked. An unhealthy majority of his lyrics are so unforgivably predictable that you can fill in the upcoming blanks on the first listen! Take, for example, some lines from the song 'Here Hear': 'Let's not say goodbye just yet / Let's stick around and feel the emotions that lay ahead / From the fantastic to the sublime / All the things on your own you won't find'."
"Hmm. That is unfortunate."
"If ever there was a lyric in dire need of the Magical Editing Fairy, this is it."
"Well, I'll admit that a line like 'In the night I can't sleep for all my dreamin' / Heaven knows just what I'm schemin' is about you' isn't exactly the stuff of legend."
"Sure isn't. Kinda makes Matthew Sweet look like Paul McCartney, doesn't it?"
"This is all quite disappointing, as I had such high expectations for this record. Andrew has a knack for '60s pop song structure, and a flawless team of supporting players, but in the end it doesn't seem to matter. A Beautiful Story is merely an exercise in style over substance. Its impact is so slight that the songs evaporate from memory within minutes of its end."
"I hate to agree with you, but you're absolutely right. This is not to say that every album released in the whole wide world has to be profound, but it is more rewarding to listen to music that is both sonically proficient and creatively accomplished. If you can't be discriminating, then what's the point?"
"Well, there you have it. Though I wonder: what album was Alternative Press listening to?"