It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out where Low Millions’ founder and front man Adam Cohen drew the inspiration for their new album, Ex-Girlfriends. The title leads the listener to believe that the enclosed 11 songs are going to be heartfelt tales of love squandered and naiveté lost. But in fact the opposite is true. The songs come across as revisionist romantic tales and half-truths. They feel authored by Rob Gordon from Nick Hornby’s High Fidelity, creating a sketch of a decent, sensitive guy with an ocean of melancholy just below the surface, just because he can.
Adam Cohen is the son of famed poet/musician Leonard Cohen. While I don’t think it’s entirely fair to compare artists to their parents, I’m going to do it anyway. In this case, I think it’s especially poignant. Adam Cohen’s lyrics, while personal, fail to reach the larger themes of love and life that Leonard Cohen is able to tap, while at the same time providing vivid, personal stories. Instead, he trips over his honesty, and the resultant poetry reads like a censored version of his diary. Some of this is because Low Millions undertook the massive task of marrying slick pop melodies and production with emotionally challenging subject matter. It’s not impossible to fuse the two, but in most cases something has to give and most of the time both suffer. Too often, the music stretches itself thin trying to overcompensate while lyrics usually have to be over-simplified and sterilized to work with the friendly melodies. Nearly all of the songs on Ex-Girlfriends suffer from one or the other.
The Low Millions don’t help themselves much. They drench the most honest songs in shimmering pop production. In “Jane”, when Cohen sings, “Hey Jane, I’m getting wasted / Hey Jane, I’m so alone”, the image should be easy enough to conjure up. I can’t think of anyone who hasn’t written a similar song in their head while coddled over a bottle of booze late on a Friday night. (Your respective (ex-)other is out on the town, no doubt starring in all kinds of adult films, and you’re at home with an Air Supply record or Dr. Who reruns). Unfortunately, instead of fostering the image, the Low Millions hide themselves behind slick guitars, burying the honesty.
Tracks such as “Statue” and “Here She Comes” evoke Achtung Baby-era U2. Guitars echo in the distance through heavy reverb while the rhythm section dutifully fulfills its role. Some of Low Millions’ reflection of U2’s foray into glam may be because Cohen and company enlist the help of multiple pop veterans to assist in production, including David Kahne (Sugar Ray, Mathew Sweet) and Pat Leonard (Madonna) — with mixed results. The fruits of Leonard’s production on “Money Thing” and “Nikki Don’t Stop” are less than stunning, although in all fairness, he wasn’t given much to work with. They are the two weakest songs on the album. On “Nikki Don’t Stop”, Cohen’s lyrics are down-right awful (“Hotter than a Puerto Rican mama / Suckin’ on ice in sauna”), not to mention a little creepy (“Hotter than a little cheerleader / Throwing back cheap tequila”). The song flirts just this-side of a Tenacious D parody of a Prince tune that shares a similar title.
Those songs that aren’t completely saturated with studio sterility are pleasant pop listens. At their best, on “Julia” and “Low Millions”, the band complements Cohen’s lamentations and heartache. “Julia” is a heartfelt breakup song, but the Low Millions are able to bring Cohen’s lyrics to life, giving the song some depth where many of the others are lacking. The title track/band name is about struggling to regain the part of you that dies post-breakup. Here the self-aware lyrics are accompanied by shimmering pop instrumentation that ultimately underscores the melody and what Low Millions are striving for as a band.
As a pop album, Ex-Girlfriends stands next to its competitors on AC or AAA radio with moderate success. Certainly I would reach for this before many of the other would-be sensitive singer songwriters posturing about and waiting to sleep with your girlfriend after their show, but as an honest, expunging of the soul (as the title implies) the album falls short.