Emo-punk band reinvents themselves into moody, orchestral rock, and it works -- for the most part.
Voices comes in a big box. Big, black, and chunky, and rendered with half-gothic, half-cartoony artwork that's both terribly cool and terribly cheesy.
The review could end here if necessary. That one sentence -- about the CD case -- just about describes Matchbook Romance's second album as a whole. Forget the straight-ahead, no frills emo-punk of their debut. Andrew Jordan's voice is deeper now, the sound is richer, the guitars are louder, and they're laying down an epic of goth-rock almost ridiculous in its proportions.
And the scary thing is, they do come quite close to succeeding.
There's no question: Voices is ambitious. Every goth, punk-pop, and hardcore convention seems put in a blender here and spun to overdrive; witness the chuggingly huge riffs of "Surrender", the slit-my-wrists singing of "Portrait". Musically, they've maintained their natural dark melodicism, while reinventing everything else; this disc sounds more like heavy metal than emo. Voices is the sound of a band that, having proven its chops with a solid debut and desperately anxious to avoid a sophomore slump, has self-consciously decided to take it to the next level.
It's a risky move; without the same absurd confidence pulling it all together, such endeavors easily (and often) fall into self-parody. Matchbook Romance certainly pulls off the confidence -- they never sound anything less than self-assured throughout the album. The production helps them along, enormous, yet never overshadowing the organic sound.
Funnily, though, the album still never gets where it wants to be. The problem is a lack of musical focus. It's an admirable try, but it's really pretty damn hard to try for Muse's grand prog-rock on one hand, and grasp for My Chemical Romance's poppy wit on the other. This is most painfully evident when "Goody, Like Two Shoes" -- an enormous, seven-minute anthem -- is followed up with the hand-clapping cheekiness of "Monsters". They're both good songs, they just sound utterly incongruous next to each other. A few clunkers, such as the should-have-been-cut "Fiction" and the unnecessary "I Wish You Were Here", also kill the momentum at the most inopportune times.
Moreover, Jordan's lyrics, though earnest and hitting all the goth expectations, never reach the grandiose depth or biting wit of his aspirations. There are flashes of brilliance --"Say It Like You Mean It" just bleeds teen ego with the line "It's like saying we had luck with a three leaf clover / The only times you loved me was when you weren't sober". But the consistency isn't there yet.
Even so, it's difficult to be harsh on them for missing their sprawling-epic vision, given that they placed the bar so high. So what we're left with is some impressively solid songs -- in particular "What a Sight", which soars with such sweeping, redemptive beauty that it sounds like it belongs less on a goth album and more on Abbey Road -- as well as some filler, played with the same undeniable bravado, but in the end still filler.
So they're big and clumsy. But they're big and clumsy in a way that super-sizes the enjoyability. Even if the reinvention isn't a total triumph, it delivers new, better songs, some verging on great -- and isn't that what music all boils down to?