Sadly, the album goes all to hell after that. To Track Star's credit, it tries damned hard to create a big, beautiful guitar-pop record, full of melody, feeling, heart-tuggieness and all the other stuff that guitar-pop aficionados look for in an album. They almost pull it off. But in the end, it all comes out a little flat. It's like fried eggs without salt. Or toast without margarine. Or beer without pretzels. Who wants beer without pretzels? Well, at a good pub, anyway -- every self-respecting pub serves pretzels, for God's sake.
Aaah, we're getting off track. The point is, it's hard these days to come up with a good, solid album of guitar-pop. It's even more difficult to come up with one that'll turn people's heads in any sort of direction. It's been that way since at least The Beatles' Please Please Me (or The Stooges' first album, maybe. It's a damned argument either way).
Today, guitar-pop bands have to contend with the specters of bands like Husker Du and The Pixies and the omnipresent onslaught of countless Weezer clones. How does a band separate itself? Most often, it doesn't. It might try -- a little halfheartedly, perhaps -- but for the most part it relies on the standbys of hit-or-miss hooks and cutesy vocals to get by.
Which is exactly what Track Star does on Lion Destroyed the Whole World. It's a decent album for what it's worth, but when it's good, it's not that good. It's always got the feeling that it's riding on the cusp of catchiness, then when you're feeling that the hook's coming, that it's about to get real good... nothing. It sticks to the same passive, mid-tempo treatment that the last track stuck to. And if you're on the third track, it's the same treatment the track before the last track got. And on down the line.
The vocal treatments of dual singer/guitarists Wyatt Cusick and Matthew Troy (they split vocal and songwriting duties) range in the middle register; most of the tracks are hushed and ostensibly heartfelt. When they do pick up, they do so only in spirit. It's as though Cusick and Troy daren't raise their voices above talking level. It's symptomatic of everything that really stunts the album -- there're just no balls to the thing. If you're going to use guitars and play rock music with them, then show some gumption. Otherwise, you're just some schlemiel with a distortion pedal and a good muting hand.
Not that Track Star is a band made up of fools. Indeed, they do show a remarkable flair for pop songwriting, borrowing from the oeuvres of oft-cited heavies such as The Beatles, The Beach Boys and late '80s radio fodder all in equal measure. Songs like "Goodbye To the Dream" and "Something To Do" make good use of Brian Wilson-esque melodies coupled with cute, crunchy alt-pop guitars. Others, like the loud-soft-loud "Pretty Close To Nothing", evoke images of The Pixies, while "October! November"'s pseudo-dark riffing brings to mind a more playful version of The Jesus and Mary Chain.
And to give credit, some songs do stand out. Though it's quite possibly due to the generally uninspiring nature of the surrounding tracks, "Amy, Tell Me Why" is a decent example of what Track Star could become if they left their whining at home and explored the deeper regions of emotion. "Cross Country", as well, is an intriguing specimen of a more experimental Track Star, one which dares to explore Pavement-esque melodic dissonance and find out that it works pretty well after all.
But on the whole, Lion Destroyed the Whole World -- as one may infer from this review -- is a bore.
Don't plan on picking up this album if you're looking for something light and engaging, or mentally challenging, or for listening to while you sweep the apartment, or for playing in your car when your friends are around. On the other hand, this is a great album to buy if you've pegged yourself "emo" and tell yourself you like this sort of drivel.
Was that last comment objective? No, not in the least. Was it the truth? Yes it was. If Track Star weren't so obsessed with being cute and soft, maybe we'd have a good album on our hands. Unfortunately, it's just not so.