Most discriminating music fans (read: music snobs) can pinpoint almost instantly what it is about those artists they don't like (read: that which sucks, and which others therefore suck for liking). These complaints can stem from a range of musical areas: an unpleasant voice, weak or aimless lyrics, a lack of musicianship, poor arrangements, gritty or extravagant production, and, often, a general, unfounded disdain that runs deep and is irreversible. These jerks are an unrelenting, stubborn bunch, but they often speak reason, even if it is reason grounded negativity. Macy Gray's voice can be a bit grating. Ditto for Everlast. G. Love can be a bit annoying, cheesy even. Point taken. It is to these selective folks, then, that new Dreamworks darling (thank you very much, Elliot Smith) Citizen Cope's eponymous CD would appeal. Theoretically, at least.
While at times Cope can pass for Everlast 2.0, he takes the shortcomings of that acousta-hip/hop-soul motif and tucks them (for the most part) neatly away. Genre-hopping can be a tricky experiment, especially if it seems to forced: a hip-hop beat here, a soft acoustic guitar there. To his credit, Cope's songs unravel with an almost uncanny coherence, flowing freely from R&B ("If There's Love", "Holdin' On") to light hip-hop ("Mistaken I.D.") to the Ben Harper protest strumming of Salvation.
And unlike Everlast, who can sometimes come across like a thug with a microphone that amplifies his less than ideal voice, the most obvious and welcome difference in Cope is his voice, a smooth, beefier take on G. Love's trademark whine that evokes not only sincerity, but warmth.
Which isn't to say that there aren't some drawbacks. It's hard to fault a guy for having a legitimate social and political agenda, but if there's anything that brings down Cope's effort, it's just that. Songs about racial inequities and profiling, poverty, and general malaise are all over the place ("Contact", "Mistaken I.D." and "Salvation"), and while you can't question his integrity or passion, it wanes a bit on the listener. Too preachy. In a society where life's injustices are more at the forefront then ever, music should be a diversion, not a reminder. There are problems, for sure, but music hasn't really been an effective venue to express concern over them since the '60s, Band Aid notwithstanding. Music isn't supposed to make you feel guilty -- that's why we have The Evening News.
Thankfully, though, it isn't all a weighty, morose affair. Where the lyrics bog down, the music picks up. The woozy "If There's Love" feels freshly culled from the lost tapes of Gray's On How Life Is. "Mistaken I.D." begins with a riff not unlike Paul McCartney's bubbly "Simply Having (A Wonderful Christmas Time)", the elixir of the saccharin gods. The mesmerizing "Teresa" follows a slow bounce and a recurring, warbling dog whine (believe it), and the villain march of "Appetite (For Lightin' Dynamite)" makes you . . . well, weary of men with a pension for lighting dynamite. And album closer "Mandy" is joyous Caribbean swing that Dave Matthews could only spew after nine Pina Coladas and a few hits of ecstasy.
In a niche that is considerably less crowded than Teen Pop, Rap Rock, and Hard Rock for Adults, Citizen Cope has made a CD worthy of Dreamworks' considerable faith. What remains to be seen is how the snobs will react. After all, his name is pretty stupid . . . right?