Where do you draw the line between faithful homage and blatant plagiarism? When does amicable retro-rock become ghoulishly unoriginal mediocrity? How can a band manage to anthologize a fairly lengthy career without one measurable highlight?
The answer to all these questions lies Down Under — that is, the merry old land of Australia. That’s where Even hail from. This album is quite possibly the most derivative collection of music I have ever heard — there’s not a single riff or rhythm that hasn’t been blatantly swiped.
The promo slip for this CD informs me that no less an authority than Rolling Stone magazine raved about this disc, referring to these songs as “power pop masterpieces”, and hailing them as “15 straight #1’s from a parallel universe”. Well, with all due respect, I’d like to ask my learned betters at Rolling Stone whether or not the universe they were referring to was a universe primarily populated by deaf people who have never before heard music.
Oh, am I being just a little bit mean? Perhaps. But in all seriousness, Even are probably the worst musical kleptomaniacs I have ever encountered. The worst part is, they don’t seem to have stolen from the best — they’ve nicked Oasis, primarily, with perhaps a little bit of Crowded House and a lot of Peter Frampton thrown in for good measure. Considering the fact that both of those groups and Frampton were themselves heavily derivative of previous rock acts, what you are presented with in Downpayment on Future Glories is a faded third-generation photocopy. You can’t even really read the memo anymore, there’s just some ghostly scribbling.
Oasis have never really tried to present themselves as anything more than a working class British band who really liked the Beatles and the Stones. They managed to get away with this because they also managed to produce two absolutely brilliant rock and roll albums — 1994’s Definitely Maybe and 1995’s What’s the Story, Morning Glory? Derivative or not, they wrote freakin’ “Wonderwall”! Regardless of whatever kind of bloated artistic purgatory they’ve shuffled off to for the last decade, they get a pass from me for that. Even, on the other hand, don’t have the songwriting chops to pull off this kind of massive plagiarism.
“Tell Me How” is crafted around a Woodface-era Crowded House melody, right down to the faux-Mersey jangled guitar work. “End to End” lifts the melody directly from Peter Frampton’s “Do You Feel Like We Do”, and when I say directly, I mean that we’re very close to “My Sweet Lord”/”He’s So Fine” territory here. The ironically titled “No Surprises”, far from a Radiohead pastiche (that would be a bit much to expect from these guys), is a T Rex homage with a little bit of the Clash’s “Remote Control” thrown in for good measure. Bringing it back to Oasis, “Sunshine Comes” is “Some May Say”, and “Peaches and Cream” is built off the riff from “Hey Now!” Amazingly, they manage to crib the same song three times — if the verses in “End to End” bear an amazing resemblance to “Do You Feel Like We Do”, then so does the chorus in “Rock and Roll Saved My Life”. “Shining Star” does it too… oh my.
There’s no need to belabor the point here. But, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention “Bowie in My Dreams”, which features perhaps the most generic rock chorus in the history of recorded music: “Share your love around / Or you’ll end up in the ground / Share your love around / For all to see”. Obviously they’re trying to create a rousing and anthemic statement here, but it just doesn’t work, in the worst possible way. Perhaps building a song around rock stars walking through your dreams wearing Brillo pads wasn’t the best idea. But that’s the only original idea here… they even do the whole “build up to a fake climax, then bring the song back for a mellow coda” trick.
I could go on, but I won’t. Looking at the liner notes, it’s obvious that these guys want to be Oasis, even down to the grumpy-looking blurry artist photos. If this were a debut album, I’d say that these guys need a lot of work. But as it is, this is a greatest-hits compilation, featuring the cherry-picked best of an eight-years-and-counting career.
I don’t have enough pith in my entire body to make an appropriately sarcastic comment here. I’m spent.