John Faye has come a long way since the 1997 split-up of his major label band the Caulfields. While the Caulfields’ two albums were critics’ favorites, they never achieved the level of commercial success they deserved. By 1999, Faye had re-grouped with Cliff Hillis on guitar and Dave Anthony on drums to form what would become the John Faye Power Trip. This trio put out a self-titled album that again delighted critics and increased the numbers behind what has become a very solid, loyal fan base.
When bassist Joann Schmidt joined the touring band supporting that album, things clicked in a big way. Now, at long last, this quartet has released their first full-length effort under a new moniker. Why the name change? According to Faye, the band had evolved way behind his original solo thing and since it was the foursome’s first album together, he thought it fitting to get a fresh start with a much shorter name.
Progress toward a studio release first was hampered by costs. The band turned to its loyal fan base and a groundswell of support answered back. Patron fans actually donated some $18,000 into a collective recording fund to help finance this new effort, but the road to Parallel Universe remained a rocky one. After nearly half the album was done, a hard drive containing the recorded tracks crashed during a routine back-up, and not even high-tech information retrieval specialists could get the music back.
The only solution was to go and re-record the lost cuts. Thankfully, the band took the news stoically; they rebuilt the record and re-evaluated song selection, taking the opportunity to try to out-do the originals and even add new songs. Happily the end product, Parallel Universe, is another strong effort from John Faye. This Korean-Irish American often has had to deal with adversity; as such, he’s a man who tends to write from the heart.
His voice remains the compelling centerpiece to these compositions; with words that express equal parts light and dark (“Parenthood has made me a little bi-polar,” Faye explains) and music that draws from rock’s past along with traces of Philadelphia soul.
The opener “Deathbed (Na, Na, Na)” lets Faye vent his angry side in a tune that is infectious as can be. The deathbed confession chorus “na-na”s inspire singing along, though only the really passionate need join in on a verse like this: “The wise man said: don’t ask me / All I know is you’ll be sorry / Sorry when I’m dead / Dead and gone in a bitchin’ blaze of glory / Holding a grudge can take a lifetime and there’s a lot that I got to say”. That angry side shows up again on the hard-driving “Revenge”, a song allegedly written as payback fantasy for a friend killed in a car accident.
There are two songs here that Faye wrote for his new daughter. “Welcome Home” is a catchy upbeat number that hides the fact it is an assurance from father to child that “You’ll never have to worry ’bout me lovin’ you as long as I’m around”. “Big Wave” is a pretty ballad that builds into a more up-tempo piece, all about fascination with the innocent wonders of this “Deep blue ocean of a universe”.
“When I Fall” is an examination of commitment beyond the limelight, asking the musical questions: “When I fall / When I’m over will you stick around / When I fall / Will you shelter me when I come crashing down”. The power of the band as a tight unit is evident here, as guitars, drums and harmonies all fit together seamlessly.
Artistic integrity is the topic of “Pure”, which actually is a John Faye tribute to Joey Ramone (though you wouldn’t know it unless told). “Dandelion” is a powerful love song about the wonder of meeting a soul mate in a coffee shop; “Never Take It Back” is a strong reminder of the power of words, especially in a relationship. And speaking of words, Faye is at the top of his game lyrically with “Trojan Horse”, taking on double and triple entendres about sex, Trojans, and horses: “You can lead me to the water / You can stop me at the source / I can scream at you with all my life / But all I ever get is hoarse / And anti-social intercourse”.
Another fine lyrical journey is found within the summer relationship nostalgia of the hook-laden “Katy Cry”: “Another endless summer / Melting castles in the sand / Another boy you thought might be a man / Into hibernation with a drink and Steely Dan”.
The bonus track is the amusing “Y Don’t U Come Home” that offers a rapping middle bridge that resembles the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ “Give It Away”. This is a tale of a man left by his promiscuous lover (he thinks she was scared off by a confession of love) and his trying to make sense of it all while asking her to come home regardless.
Faye is in fine voice, and the guitar work of Hillis, the drumming of Anthony, and the bass work of Schmidt all are deserving of praise (these are not simple compositions — Faye writes some complex pop/rock). Atlanta wunderkind Don McCollister (Sister Hazel, Indigo Girls) produced a clean sound for the majority of the album and Marvelous 3’s own Butch Walker produced two songs as well, while Greg Calbi did a fine job of mastering.
So while Ike had a bit of a tough time getting this music to you, the end result is well worth your listen. Parallel Universe doesn’t go out of its way to be trendy — these merely are mature-sounding, intricate, yet catchy songs that come from the heart and stick in your head. John Faye, his fantastic voice and very solid supporting band are content to continue to build that loyal fan base, gig by gig, though soundtrack placements also are in the big plan. It’s been a while since the slogan has been used, but don’t be surprised to start hearing it again from the rafters. Yes, folks, it’s true — “I like Ike.”