Los Angeles. Home of big sounding bands. Enter Zoo Story, another one of those big sounding bands. Amongst their crew are former Tonic drummer Kevin Shepard and bassist Nick Sample, son of pianist Joe Sample. These guys should be big. They should be huge. They should be appearing on MTV in constant rotation until you get sick of them. They have a sound that should mine pure gold and a few dollars. They are corporate rock at its most mundane.
They sound like a cross between Pearl Jam, Train, Dave Matthews, and Sting. If bands such as Matchbox 20 seem appealing, then Zoo Story will hit the spot as well. This is rock at its most unoriginal and most commercially appealing. Sit down, turn it on, sing along if some of the words become memorable, and forget about it later on. Play it for the friends when they come over, and they'll probably buy a copy or two as well.
It has to be a sure thing. The band's song "Star" (included here) was featured in the under-achieving Kevin Costner flick Dragonfly. A match made in heaven. A plain, unobtrusive, powerful sounding tune melded to a movie that no one really paid attention to. But an attention span is not required here. Rather, one only needs to be able to spot big guitars, VH-1 friendly melodies, and songs that don't contain too much under the surface.
Lead singer and guitarist Randy Coleman has one of those voices made for stardom. It's deep, yet he can also flex it into one of those soaring falsettos that provides the hook one too many times to the band's songs. If the silly "Mantaray" doesn't become a hit, where will the justice be? With lyrics that ape The Beatles' "Come Together" ("He got premonition / He eat Mona Lisa / He got intuition, man / Far better than you and me") and a huge, epic sound that swells and crashes on itself over and over, this is the song that will probably make or break Zoo Story.
Funny thing is, this album was originally to have been released last year with "Mantaray" as the leadoff track. But some track changes were made, the album re-titled, and the band released an EP of four songs from the album on May 7. Have they made a dent so far? Are the fans culminating in a quiet murmur that will soon be unleashed into an all-out fury that will sell millions of records and score as many fans? It seems possible.
Also on board is producer Gavin MacKillop, who has worked with such acts as Toad the Wet Sprocket and The Goo Goo Dolls. And that, in itself should be telling enough. The Goo Goo Dolls were once a possibly viable act that since turned into nothing more than a glossy ad vehicle for Johnny Rzeznik's pouty face. Content to crank out epic ballads and rockers that sell products and wreak havoc on all sorts of soundtracks, Zoo Story looks just as well prepared to do the same kind of thing. Though one might be hard pressed to find a cover boy in this group.
The band's label, 3:33 Music had previous problems with wanting to push Australian act Killing Heidi into the American market. Whether or not Zoo Story will be met with the same kind of "No thanks, we've already got plenty of bands that sound like you" on their own soil is anyone's guess, but the fact that they do sound like a couple handfuls of better-known groups may be the Gordian Knot that ties them up. On the one hand, they might be most welcome with their radio-ready sound, but on the other, the trends might be changing just enough that they'll be left in the FM dust, only to collect on that previous Dragonfly exposure.
Still, such melodramatic workouts like "If I Could Dream Like Francis" and "Chasing Zen" will probably find audiences without a hitch. Yet Ray Coleman's falsetto is certainly guaranteed to be a thorn in some people's ears. His overuse of it in the opening portion of the final track "Midnight Luna" is enough to make one want to gleefully ignore Zoo Story. But by that time, it's the end of the album. Not that it matters; most of the songs here sound the same and a number of them could very well be hit singles. Will Zoo Story become the next big thing? A Budweiser-sponsored tour may very well be in the future.