It seems like, lately, everyone has been avoiding the label of “emo” like the kiss of death. My friend (who knows more about these things than I do) tells me that emo is dead, and I’ve seen more than one band try to avoid that label on their music. For better or for worse, The Anniversary seem to be taking that road as well.
Despite that, though, The Anniversary’s 2000 debut LP, Designing a Nervous Breakdown, was one of the more high-profile “emo” releases of the last couple of years, and one hell of an album, to boot: off-center vocals, sometimes-chaotic arrangements, and an incredible about of energy. Of course, the best thing about the band was the addition, in a normally male-centered genre, of, like, a girl, Adrianne Pope. She provided not only pretty boy/girl harmonies, but her keyboard as well, which made the band’s sound that much fuller.
In the light of Pope’s additions, the group’s second album, Your Majesty, contains some familiar elements. There are still the pleasant boy/girl harmonies, and the keyboard is still in the mix. However, this is a very different album. While The Anniversary may not have set out specifically to jump ship from emo, they have traded in the chaotic compositions and off-kilter vocals for a more straightforward rock sound. One review I saw described the album as “space rock” (as well as praising its un-emo-ness) and that label may have some merit, but what the sound of Your Majesty recalls would be more easily referred to as “classic rock.” The songs are, for the most part, more straight-forward. The tempo is slower and, one assumes, more methodical, but at the cost of a lot of the copious energy present in the debut.
The album beings with a few straightforward rock numbers. “Sweet Marie” is solid, while “Crooked Crown” is serviceable, if a little generic (we’ll forgive them if they do sound like Weezer at the beginning). The third song, “Peace, Pain, and Regret” seems to recapture some of the lost energy of the debut, at least in the chorus, which is quite catchy.
Then, after “Husam Husam”, which we’ll come back to later, everything changes, as the next three songs, “The Siren Sings”, “Never Die Young”, and “Tu-Whitt Tu-Whoo”, blow everything you’ve already heard right out of the water. They are, for lack of a better term, perfect pop songs. “Siren” has that me-against-the-world mentality (“I was a cast away from New Orleans / Fought the world and found my dreams”) that rock singers can do so well. While some might call the sentiment behind the song a little “high school”, it still gets me like it did when I was 17. “Never Die Young” is fast and loose, and in some ways bears the greatest similarity of any of these songs to the first album. “Tu-Whitt Tu-Whoo” (despite its title) is a great, poppy love song that makes the material seem fresh, no matter how many countless songs have been written on the subject (“I’ve loved you all my life tonight”). It goes against conventional wisdom to have three songs in the middle of the album that are so much better than the first group, but that’s where we are.
The rest of the album, almost by necessity, can’t live up to those three songs. In rock, there are bad songs, and then there are bad songs that go on for six and a half minutes. Your Majesty has two of them: “Husam Husam” and “The Ghost of the River”. Okay, “Husam Husam” isn’t completely without merit, but it needs to be about three minutes shorter.
The last three songs are also pretty solid. “The Death of the King”, which makes me think of Lord of the Rings, is an example of a good six-minute song, while the instrumental end of the song, which doubles as a lead-in to “Follow the Sun”, recalls of Pink Floyd. “Follow the Sun”, the last track, reminds us that, in the end, all you need is a chorus.
At this point, it seems like a familiar story. A band storms onto the scene with an album that makes a mark, and carves out a name for itself in the world of pop music. It may not change the face of music forever, but it carves out a niche. Then, working on their second record, the band gets more ambitious, and decides to take on the whole edifice of rock head-on. And while the new music may lose the novelty that made the band famous in the first place, critics hail the new style as more mature.
Lately, though, I’ve been beginning to think that mature songwriting may not be all it’s cracked up to be. What made The Anniversary’s first album great was its youthful energy. However, a lot of this energy gets lost with the shift to slower, more deliberate songs. Your Majesty is still a very good album. Still Designing a Nervous Breakdown was awesome from the first listen, and that immediacy is missing here.
I guess what I’m saying is that, dammit, I like emo. Sure, too much of it can make you sick, just like too much of anything else, but The Anniversary had Adrianne Pope to balance out the excesses that might come from whiny boys and discordant guitars. I remember comedian David Spade saying once that performers spend the first half of their careers trying to get a hook, and the second half of them (those performers who are lucky enough to become famous, anyway) trying to get away from it, and it seems to me that the same kind of thing might hold for bands. So while The Anniversary might have been worried about becoming labeled as “gimmicky”, I miss the old hook. Then again, “The Siren Sings”, “Never Die Young”, and “Tu-Whitt Tu-Whoo” make it all okay.
Again, the best thing the band has going for it is Adrianne and her keyboard, and there’s just something about boy-girl interactions are really compelling in this musical format. While she does get to sing fairly often here, I often found myself forgetting that she also plays an instrument, and a damn good one. Here’s hoping The Anniversary gives her a bigger part on the next album.