Glassjaw: Worship and Tribute

Worship and Tribute
Warner Bros.

When I first received Glassjaw’s second album, Worship and Tribute, I tried giving it a sample listen every once in a while, but whenever I tried to get through it, something would happen that would force me away from the stereo, and for about five times in a row, I had to stop the CD after the first five songs. So for a while all I knew about Worship and Tribute was that handful of songs, and judging from those, this new album sounded like it would be a keeper. Unfortunately, I eventually had to get through the entire album, and after a few listens to the CD in its entirety, I’m wondering how a band could louse up an album so badly after such a promising start.

The quintet from Long Island, New York, as they did on their debut album Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Silence, employ the services of Ross Robinson on this disc, and his trademark production style is all over the album: razor-sharp guitar work by Justin Beck and Todd Weinstock, an intense, tight rhythm section (Larry Gorman on drums, Dave Allen on bass), and extremely impassioned vocals. At its best, the album blends harmony and noise in an unholy cross between nu-metal and emo, and there are moments that show that Glassjaw can be capable of picking up where At the Drive-In (which Robinson himself produced) left off a couple years ago.

Those inspired moments are thrilling, and they comprise those first five songs on the album. The explosive “Tip Your Bartender” opens the CD, a searing blend of the sounds of Fugazi and Bad Brains, using the same effective, oblique, yet intensely personal lyrics that At the Drive-In excelled at: “All my X’s live with hexes / This is why I hang / Myself with jealousy upon a fencepost half mast.” The song immediately segues into the super-heavy Slipknot riffage of “Mu Empire”, during which vocalist Daryl Palumbo flaunts his Mike Patton (Faith No More) styled range for the first time, providing subdued vocal harmonies, emotive howls, and wrenching, guttural screams, all in a song that ably finds the middle ground between heavy and melodic, something that few hard rock bands are capable of accomplishing. The catchy chorus in the excellent “Cosmopolitan Bloodloss” reminds me of the best moments of Jawbox’s brief run almost a decade ago, and is the most accessible song of the bunch, sounding like a potential MTV2 hit. The mellower “Ape Dos Mil” has Palumbo and company in full Faith No More mode, and though whatever Palumbo means when he sings, “It’s just a tango / But it’s not easy, you know,” is probably something the singer only knows, the song is a good exercise in obscure emocore balladry. “Pink Roses” is a return to more fervid fare, yet another deft blend of cacophony and melody, as Palumbo closes the song with a chilling line: “I want to drink you, scare you, fuck you and film you.”

But that’s it for the good stuff; in fact, those five songs comprise only 18 minutes of a 53 minute album, and the remaining 35 minutes quickly becomes tedious, repetitive, and self-indulgent. You hear it immediately on the sixth track, “Must’ve Run All Day”, a maudlin ballad that apes the nauseating stylings of Canadian bland rockers Our Lady Peace, with Palumbo overemoting exactly like the preening Raine Maida, right down to the oh-so-earnest heavy breathing after every line. His intentions may be sincere, but when you hear the ludicrous line, “Where is my Sandanista?”, it comes off as laughable. The boring noisefest of “Stuck Pig” is a failed attempt at a sketch of a drug user (“Some night’s the wind pipe’s covered in dope / I pray it be covered in a rope”), while “The Gillette Cavalcade of Sports” is just plain ridiculous, from its unoriginal, devoid-of-any-hooks musical arrangement, to the crying-white-boy vocals, and the high school journal lyrics that are nothing less than embarrassing: “My heart stays in the lead / And we see first, second behind my heart is my mind / Third behind my mind is my body / Fourth behind my body is my soul.”

Basically, the rest of Worship and Tribute, with the exceptions of the by-the numbers, but effective punk of “Radio Cambodia”, and the trippy Caligula tribute (at least, I think that’s what it is) “Convectuoso”, is a complete write-off. It’s bad enough to listen to albums that are awful all the way through, but it’s much, much more frustrating to hear a band like Glassjaw flex such creative muscle for less than half an album, and then just make it look like they’re going through the motions the rest of the way. They’ve shown they’re a smart band, both musically and lyrically, but on Worship and Tribute, listeners are stuck with 40 percent inspiration, 60 percent filler. If these guys ever manage to sustain such intense greatness over the course of an entire album, look out. In the meantime, though, just download those five or six songs and stick ’em on a mix CD.