If you don’t think that Capitol Records is banking quite a bit on the success of UK’s The Music, you didn’t receive the 33 pages of material on the band that I was sent by the record company. (Just as a comparison, Frank Black’s latest two disc release was accompanied by a one page press release which simply reprinted the liner notes, and R.E.M.’s latest came with a normally hefty eleven pages). 33 pages? Let’s not go crazy. As an extra thought to chew on, a band better be able to hold up a name like The Music. Otherwise they’ll be relegated to a “Who’s on First” skit (as they did in The Animaniacs) with The Who, The Band, and Yes. I simply thought to myself, like Binky, Matt Groening’s rabbit with one ear is wont to say, “This better be good.”
Besides mentioning all of the bands that producer Brendan O’Brien had worked with in the past, the press packet also references comparisons to Coldplay and the Vines, besides calling the band the `heirs’ to the throne held once by the Stone Roses, Oasis, and the Verve (one look at the press packet photo reveals that vocalist Robert Harvey desperately wants to resemble Richard Ashcroft). Extremely oddly, Zeppelin and Queen are also cited as similar bands. Harvey does have Robert Plant’s timbre and pitch, but his vocals are more akin to a mix of Perry Farrell, Geddy Lee, and Lee’s mimicker Brian Molko. The music of the Music, (that’s going to make for some confusion), is like a Britpop answer to Jane’s Addiction, at least the first few songs. As the album progresses the sound changes and does reflect all of the above bands, but what’s more, the Music creates a sound all their own.
The opening title track is pure guitar driven mania. Unfortunately, while the song is majestic, I was reminded, mostly because of the Geddy Lee similarity and the title, of Lee’s collaboration with Bob & Doug McKenzie, “The Great White North.” The next few songs continue in the cock rocking vein (no pun intended), screaming guitar heavy and arena worthy tracks that would lead us to imagine leather pants and scarves tied to mic stands. Upon hearing the fourth track, “Bleed From Within,” I stopped wondering why the Music was often compared to U2. A shot rings out across the desert sky? I don’t know whether that’s more of a ripoff of “Pride (In the Name of Love)” or “Bullet the Blue Sky.” The arena rock heaviness of the album keeps coming with “Breakin’,” a song with similarities to the American rap/rock sound that has been dominating the airwaves the past few years. Luckily, I didn’t stop listening after the other Jane’s soundalike “Cessation.”
“Fight the Feeling,” the sixth track on the album is where the album shifts and starts to get really good. Rather than an assault on the ears at high registers, this particular song is quieter, slower, but more powerfully drenched in emotion, like the best songs from Placebo’s Without You I’m Nothing and the Verve’s Urban Hymns. “Guide” continues in more of a Britpop style with an extremely catchy chorus that will stick in your head for days. It recalls seventies pop rock anthems created by the likes of Cheap Trick. The album then continues to plod along with more tedious lyrics backed by a sonic assault until “Open Your Mind,” a halfway decent radio friendly power pop song.
With so much praise for their self-titled debut and so much expectation resting on their shoulders for the sophomore effort, I think the Music tried to be too much for too many. Welcome to the North is an uneven, disjointed affair with moments of brilliance, but unfortunately far too many more moments of inanity. There is a reason why Oasis, Coldplay, the Verve and the Stone Roses were so successful; they stuck with one singular sound and vision. Although each had obvious influences that they wore on their sleeves, songs and albums created by them were cohesive and unified. Welcome to the North is a mess, and might have been better served as multiple EP’s, just as the band started with before their debut. Louder doesn’t mean better, gents, it just means louder.
Placebo- Without You I’m Nothing
Jane’s Addiction- Jane’s Addiction
The Verve- A Northern Soul