It took four years for Take Manhattan to be released? Why? At best it sounds like early Dinosaur Jr. meets typical college alt-rock. Oh well, like it or not, that’s certainly the case for ex-Castors Jeff Garber and Derek Niedringhaus’ project for Mud Records under the Big Bright Lights name tag. I can’t help but think that had this album actually been released back in 1997, then it might have sounded a bit more interesting than it does now. Or not. I can’t safely say that this disc would have moved me in any year. All I’m saying is perhaps this album would have been better suited to the overall musical climate then.
What goes on here is some pretty tedious work that manages to make one listless more than it promises to engage. The opening track “This Is Not a Test” pretty much lays the groundwork for the rest of the album. The vocals are carbon copies (and very carbon at that) of J Mascis’ while the guitars try to rage on like the ex-Dino Jr.’s as well, but with none of the bite and little of the actual rage. The caterwauling really isn’t that happening, and the rinky-dink sounds of the six strings themselves can only make you wonder what these guys thought they were up to.
The second problem with the songs is that they’re too damn long. Way too long to support the bland nature that each of the tunes delivers. If they had been two-minute ditties rather than six-minute workouts, the songs might have actually worked in an economical fashion. As it stands, such ramblings as “Is This the End?” seem to take so damn long in the process that I kept looking over at my CD player’s timer to see just how much time had elapsed. I knew it was going to be bad when only three minutes had passed. But that’s what you get with the Big Bright Lights.
But wait, we haven’t gotten to the words yet. Not that we really need to, but I figure I may as well point out the band’s third weakness. Sometimes you can have some really good lyrics in some outright crap music but, alas, this is not the case. I especially like these guys’ knack for misspelling things in the lyric sheet. From “Dream in Color”, we get “I can barely loose [sic] / I can dream in color now / Turn attention to? / I will be your color now”. And then in “I Lay Down for the Stars”, there’s the poetic majesty of “I made up all these words / I’m made of all these curves / I lay down for the stars if they want me too [sic]”. Granted, that last “too” could be read in an “also” fashion, but given the previous blunder I kind of doubt it.
Oh, and then there’s the big jam of “NOVA”. Eight minutes and seventeen seconds of what amounts to nothing more than, say, a jam band on mescaline. Wait, that’s par for the course for something like that, right? Oh to be swept away by the languid guitars and lazy rhythms. The thud of the drums and that accordion. Blah. Snore. It’s just not going to work. Eleven tracks here and they all put me to sleep. So in that sense, it’s probably a good thing that this is it for the Lights and that Garber has since gone on to take the helm of National Skyline. Or not, again. When it comes to music like this, it’s hard to really jump up and down about it or outright hate it. Frankly, it just bores me. And I think that’s far worse than being swayed to either the good or the bad end of the spectrum.