The Young Meteors is a lot like Spam. It tastes good going down — but then diner’s remorse sets in. What the hell did I just eat? It’ll lie on the shelf for an eternity and never spoil. And it’s best enjoyed in small doses: plop a whole can o’ Spam onto a plate and all of a sudden it ain’t quite so appetizing. So it goes for Greg Summerlin’s sophomore record. Only those sanguine souls smitten with gritty power-pop — those fearless Spam-for-breakfast-lunch-and-dinner folks — will endure the whole album more than twice a year.
That’s because Young Meteors is predictable, clichéd, and overly sweet. Summerlin’s pop-rock songs have almost no depth — from “You reap just what you sow” to “Gonna find my way to the West Coast, / Gonna see my good friends there”, the lyrics are basic at best. What you hear on the first listen is what you get from then on out. But that’s also the benefit of mass-produced goods like Spam: uncertainty is not an issue, and staying power is undeniable.
Speaking of production, on hand is three-time Grammy winner Rob Burrell (Michael W. Smith, The Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir). British citizen Summerlin recorded this album (as well as his debut) on Burrell’s home turf of Franklin, Tennessee — right outside Nashville. An unlikely place for a Brit to record a pop-rock album? Indeed. Yet the country music capital did nothing to mellow Summerlin’s vim. Over 11 songs and 38 minutes, Young Meteors is incessantly upbeat, straddling the line between consistent and monotonous. The saccharine “Here Comes the Butterflies” takes this formula to the extreme with an absurd chorus: “I’m happy, I’m happy, I’m happy, I’m happy, / ‘Cause here come the butterflies”.
Lyrics like these are the record’s primary weakness. Summerlin’s choruses almost always involve repeating the title of the song. This sometimes works, but more often is offensively boring. While power pop is not necessarily about creativity, and repetition is an important feature of pop lyrics, Summerlin should have put more thought into his words. And it doesn’t help that his vocal melodies are about as piquant as a glass of tap water.
Thankfully, Summerlin is far more talented as a guitarist than a singer. If his vocals threaten to ruin the album, his guitar playing makes the best case for salvaging it. Summerlin’s bright, distortion-drenched power chords provide the primary rhythmic drive and sonic footprint throughout most of the songs. The rhythms are perfect for power-pop: peppy but subtle. And the melodies he draws from these tight chord progressions often overshadow his vocal melodies.
The guitar intro that digs into “I Would Fight” heralds the record’s strongest track. Blue like the Cure on Disintegration then bright like Wild Mood Swings, the riff is layered with handclaps and additional rhythm guitar as it builds steam. As it moves through its four-and-a-half minutes, it offers something new around each bend. Ushered out with a guitar solo and an instrumental section, the song shows Summerlin at his best.
Yet by Young Meteors‘ conclusion, it’s clear Summerlin’s songwriting is too one-dimensional to sustain an entire album. The production is effective and the guitar playing is exemplary for the genre — but the themes are as shallow as a kiddie pool in a drought. Props to Summerlin for staying true, but next time I’m reaching for the fresh ham.