Music

Budapest: Too Blind to Hear

Duncan White

Budapest

Too Blind to Hear

Label: Republic
US Release Date: 2003-03-04
UK Release Date: 2002-08-26
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Too Blind to Hear begins with "Is This the Best It Gets" and ends with "Nothing New", and, without wanting to sound too cruel, this is either breathtakingly self-aware or just unconsciously appropriate. Budapest are an eminently listenable band, but the music is just too bland to real take you by the scruff of the neck.

Doves and Coldplay, bands in the same ballpark as Budapest, have had commercial success while sustaining their credibility, in a way that bands like Toploader and Travis haven't. The difference is ambition. Doves and Coldplay have put themselves on the line and tried to do something new and different in a genre were stagnation and mediocrity is commonplace. People hoover up bland "emotional" rock-pop in the UK with the same fervor as dull R&B is consumed in the States. This desperate groping for the new great band sees some unmitigated toss plastered on the cover of NME and the like, without the substance to back it up. Budapest, like so many before them, are in grave danger of being crushed by the hype-grander and tossed into the indie-rock graveyard.

The omens are not that good. Too Blind to Hear is produced by none other than Dave Creffield, the man who presided over Embrace's debut. Perhaps the most over-hyped band in history, Embrace's faux grandeur became an embarrassing parody of itself with alarming speed. Budapest are a lot better than Embrace ever were, but that's not much of concession. Creffield is in part to be blamed -- the production is so polished on Too Blind To Hear that it begins to eat away at the bands' sincerity. If you were not aware of the band's history, it could sound like a by-numbers sad-song cash-in.

Mark Walworth, Budapest's first guitarist, committed suicide two years after the band were formed and, unsurprisingly, Too Blind to Hear is dedicated to his memory. How big an impact this has had upon their music is difficult to tell, what with this being the band's debut, but many songs allude to Walworth's death, not least "Life Gets in the Way". This backdrop should shield the band from the "whiny" tag slapped onto almost all music of this ilk these days.

Lead singer John Garrison is the creative force behind Budapest, and he writes every song on Too Blind to Hear. His voice is capable of exploring the higher registers but it lacks both charisma and intimacy -- something that is a real sticking point for me. Like the production, it is a little too polished and clean.

"Is This the Best It Gets" was released as a single and is the first track on the album. It ambles along gently enough in a manner that endures comparison with Unbelievable Truth, and Garrison's voice is certainly at its most versatile here. The chord changes are neat and the song has stickability.

The bleak outlook of "Is This the Best It Gets" is a pretty accurate marker for the album's overall emotional pitch, ranging from bleak to bleaker. "Look You in the Eye" sounds strikingly like downbeat I Am Kloot in its bass-heavy verse, but disappoints come chorus. "Wake Up Call" is also bass-driven, but, like "Evade the Pain", it sounds too much like Tom McRae at his most indulgent. The best track is undoubtedly "Life Gets in the Way", as it follows through on its own Pumpkins-esque ambitions with a grandstand orchestral finish.

Indeed, I can't help feeling I have been a little harsh on Budapest. There are no real bad songs on Too Blind to Hear (there are only ten on the album), and a lot worse will be released this year. The problem is none of them will make you await a follow-up with bated breath. Predictability is not a good thing in a debut, and Budapest suffer from it.

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