The New Amsterdams: Worse for the Wear

Jon Langmead

The New Amsterdams

Worse for the Wear

Label: Vagrant
US Release Date: 2003-08-05
UK Release Date: Available as import

Worse for the Wear, the third full-length from Get Up Kid Matt Pryor's side project the New Amsterdams is aggressively hooky and listenable -- as long as you don't think too hard about it or let it get you too mad, assuming that you're the kind of person that lets yourself get reflexively mad at the Dashboard Confessionals of the world and their associates. What enjoyment there is to be had, though, is undermined by its aggravating lack of overall depth, both lyrically and musically. Little rings true in any real and sustaining way though that's clearly what is being shot for. Plus, there are those really whiny vocals; but that's being snarky.

Wrapped up in a fairly glossy texture, the music can unobtrusively move right by. You'll even find yourself humming at two least songs for the next 24 hours or so. Its best moments grab your ear almost right away, although you'll find that it's equally effortless to quit paying attention again before long. All of this could possibly qualify it as a guilty pleasure, which it isn't mostly because there's just too much schlock being moved around. The most basic thing to be said is that the album is fine. It's not really that bad. Not really exciting, either . . . just fine.

I've seen Americana being very loosely tossed around in reference to the sound of Worse for the Wear but that really only applies if using an acoustic guitar is the sole criteria for calling music "roots-y". If this is the case, "More Than Words" is one of the most successful Americana songs in recent memory (Nuno Bettencourt's guitar body knocks from that song are unintentionally, hopefully, echoed on this album's "Are You True"). Pump organ, piano, and banjo make cameos throughout but they're as much window dressing as anything else.

It's easy to assume that Worse for the Wear will hit the mark with the band's target audience. Other than that, it proves little aside from the fact that, with the right media push, the band might also extend their reach to the same, larger, audience that Richard Marx mined in the late '80's. That being said, I'll take "Right Here Waiting" over this album's "From California" when I'm ready to indulge myself with some cheap sentiment on the complications and loneliness inherent with long-distance relationships.

At their best, the lyrics feel like minor league stabs at Aimee Mann-style word play. Pryor manages a few nice turns but mostly you can hear the lyrical gears grinding. They aim for intimacy but too often they settle for easily consumable sentiments. A lyric like, "Do you ever miss her? / Do you hear the cold wind whisper? / Is there anything more deafening?" will probably only send chills down the most gullible of spines. On "Hover Near Fame", Pryor is dismissive of hanger-ons and supposed "fakes" (the way he spits the word out is the same way that kids in my middle school used to call each other "poseurs"). Instead of taking a stab at empathy or extending his emotional purview, Pryor is content just to tell the offender to get out of his barstool.

Rhymes get telegraphed for miles and the whole thing ends-up feeling too self-conscious to ring true. The template is there, though, and Pryor has a sure hand at giving his songs a solid surface coat. Each chorus seems designed for stadium-sized sing along potential with some, lyrics notwithstanding, ("Hover Near Fame", "Hanging on for Hope", "The Smoking Gun") standing out in particular.

What is so aggravating is that with such a well-painted surface there's so little underneath worth looking deeper for. It may be that his voice just lacks believability but I think there's more. When he sings that the band will "never make load-in if the Ephedrine don't kick in" ("Asleep at the Wheel"), there's no urgency or real excitement. Without those, it sounds like he's doing little more than name-dropping. What's so odd about it is that a road-experienced musician like Pryor should have the vantage point to make something out of that line. In the context that it's presented in, it all sounds like a goof.

And it carries over, making the songs that might make your emotions swim seem equally shallow. References to "idle hands" get made more than once and the lack of things to keep busy with may help point at the problem. Whatever sadness, desire, or emotional clarity pokes through feels like fashion, as much of an accessory as a form-fitting vintage T-shirt or pair of Vans. If you think really hard about it, it starts to feel a little offensive. But, in the end, it's not worth getting yourself worked up over.


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