Radio-ready arrangements meet monotonous lyricism on Wakey Wakey's third full-length effort.
Wakey Wakey first made tuneful waves with a full-length in 2010’s Almost Everything I Wish I’d Said the Last Time I Saw You. A passion project by Mike Grubbs and brought together by a slew of other musicians, Wakey Wakey came swinging out of the gates in full-on orchestral piano-based pop/rock style not unlike what artists such as the Fray and Coldplay did in an era when they were climbing up the charts with efforts like How to Save a Life and Viva la Vida. Six years and another full-length effort later and Grubbs is still pining away at his same old tricks -- the sweeping and repetitious singalong earworms made in collaboration with a slew of other musicians remains a center-point -- but in greater fashion, this time.
Musically, especially, Grubbs seems to have hit more of a sweet-spot than in past efforts. Each song’s instrumentation and overall arrangement remain that much more intrinsically interesting than past efforts that Wakey Wakey has made thus far. Drawing on influences ranging from ethereal synth to a full-on string orchestra, his vocals are allowed a place to soar in a more commercially-apt environment than they ever have before. It's seriously something to behold, and able to evoke an easy “wow” from first-time listeners on the first spin.
However, irony notwithstanding, initial reactions of this ilk may prove to be a bit of an overreaction, in the end. Not atypical of Grubbs’ decided lyrical developments over the past several years, he often comes across as repetitive to the point of monotony. At first, the ascension of choruses on tracks like “Heartbroke” and the titular “Overreactivist” come across as very catchy and listenable, but as the singalong value of the numbers wear off and listeners eventually sober, it would be forgivable to perceive the overall effort as somewhat tedious.
In this regard, longtime fans of Grubbs’ type of songwriting, featuring sonically impressive, ascending arrangements paired with rather languid lyricism, will find more of the same to enjoy on Overreactivist. On the other hand, those who’ve just gotten around to hearing about Wakey Wakey for the first time, or those who had been previously skeptical of his work, may not be all-too convinced following a listen through of this one.
With that said, this isn’t to slight Grubbs -- too much; his efforts as a composer are strong, if not as totally polished as aforementioned acts also within the "piano pop" lane. Some earworms, such as “Golden”, stick out as sleeper hits that could really grow friendly with the radio waves, whereas the unique instrumentation on tracks like “Homeless Poets” or “Heartbroke” showcase his savvy as a vocalist and arranger that much more.
All in all, it all comes down to a feeling that there could be something more. Grubbs maintains the tools to become a smash hit right at this very moment, and, perhaps, he should. However, in regards to his overall body of work, there are still very obvious signs for improvement. At the end of the day, Overreactivist comes across as solid and even impressive at times. The issue is whether or not the package as a whole is entirely memorable.