Last year, the loose conglomeration of people known as Saturday Looks Good to Me released its second album, All Your Summer Songs to great critical acclaim. The songs on that album ranged in quality, but were less impressive than most people proclaimed them to be. The tracks were catchy but highly derivative; main artist Fred Thomas loaded the album with odd sounds and production, but the album really never made a statement. As its title suggested, the disc contained fun summer music, best heard between your junior and senior years. If All Your Summer Songs was a high school vacation, Every Night is the June you come home from your first year of college.
The music hasn't changed much, but everything about the recordings shows a little more mature. Most notable, Thomas has eased up on the effects, allowing the songs to come through more straightforwardly. The resulting sound suggests a band growing in confidence. The group no longer comes of like a bunch of Brian Wilson-ites with too much studio fidgeting; instead, they sound like pop musicians with a command of lo-fi equipment and a good knowledge of the past. The knowledge sometimes works against SLGTM. The band occasionally sounds too influenced for its own good, spitting out '50s and '60s retreads. That problem crops up much less often on this album, however, as SLGTM takes a large step toward forming its own identity.
Although the music sounds like a light-hearted cross between a sock hop and a beach party, the lyrics focus on loss and desperation. The title of "We Can't Work It Out" reveals its song's melancholy contents. The singer here -- an unidentified woman -- lets someone know that they're through, saying, "We can't be helped now." Rather than being a basic break-up song, this piece points to what's unspoken: the addressed person apparently has a drinking problem. When the track opens with "After the alcohol and the anniversary / You'll still be happier with a memory," the singer seems to be saying that her beloved won't be happy when the easy, fun times are over. The vocalist is ready to end it, but as the song progresses, it's clear that she's the sad one in this case (the vocalist's subdued emotional delivery is perfect). She turns out to be more questioning than accusative, having reached the end of her own rope with the problem. When she sings, "You lost all your magic when / You left it at the bar," she doesn't complain, she laments. It's a simple song that turns around into a powerful one.
The idea of the unsaid permeates the album. About half the songs on Every Night contain the word "secrets", and other tracks reference them ("If you ask, I won't keep nothing from you", "Let's keep it between you and me", etc.). The world of SLGTM has become complicated and uncertain, and the song's narrators try to respond to this world as best they can. Thomas, the group's primary songwriter, uses uncertain to keep his listeners unbalanced and intrigued, too. "Empty Room" opens with a pretty typical description of a domestic dispute: "Scream your complaints / Slam the doors and break all of the plates." In fact, he convinces us that nothing's hidden here, as the lead vocalist sings "You give more away" and "You don't have to say a word / I know just how you feel." The pivotal moment of this song comes next, when the singer reveals that her own feelings are identical to her partner's, and we realize that they're going through the same thing -- together. The unsaid is to us, because we don't know what the problem is, only that this track isn't the breaking-up piece we were led to expect. The character addressed in this song as to "wait for something to say" -- it's a great unspoken that's causing us to sympathize with these people while being unable to fully connect with them. The secrecy isolates us (not them) but brings us into a state of voyeurism.
As complex as it all gets at times, Thomas doesn't want to give in. On "When the Party Ends" he mocks the idea of the whining artist who would write "another song about your discontent... And use your list of words that rhyme with 'opulent / Now someone said that you should throw in malcontent." The song's uptempo and jangly, and Thomas dismisses anyone who would let this difficult world get to them. It's a bit wide-eyed to suggest that these problems will become "just like a dream", but he's willing to try, to "kiss you in the kitchen and... count to ten" to establish that real, pretty life.
Every Night isn't flawless and it isn't the most original album of the year, but Saturday Looks Good to Me has grown a great deal in the past year. Thomas is beginning to emerge as someone who can write lyrics as smart as his hooks are catchy. His bandmates keep up with their performances, and the album's a big success. If they sound this good as incoming sophomores, I can't wait to hear them at graduation.