You impudent, impotent little boys, I silently scream as track one from album two by the Electric Soft Parade plays. What made you think that slide guitar, some stale, stuttering start/stop rhythms and those dorky piano bits on the chorus of "Things I've Done Before" were any way to build on the wonderful impression you left upon me with your debut album?
And it really was a fine debut, last year's Holes in the Wall
was. Two English teenagers, Tom and Alex White, borrowed from and reacted against nearly half a century of rock music to create a gem that suggested they had listened to a fair share of other backwards-looking, progressive-minded bands like the Boo Radleys, Dinosaur Jr. and Teenage Fanclub. It was a simulacrum, to be sure, but a mighty melodious one that found a spot near the top of my list of 2002 favorites.
In working on their second album, the Whites undertook a conscious effort to make something bigger and more organic-sounding than their previous work, ditching the Pro-Tools-powered bedroom-recording approach in favor of analog equipment and live recording as well as some time spent working at legendary studio Abbey Road. And while their intentions were certainly good, the results are not.
My snide disdain for songs like the album's first track excepted, it's hard to state just why The American Adventure
finds the band crashing to earth so spectacularly. The Big Book of Rock Critic Clichés
has an entry for "sophomore slump" that says it's a lot harder to craft a whole new batch of interesting songs in a year or two than it is to sift through a whole lifetime of experiences and create a great debut, but the many counter-examples of this "truism" for every Stone Roses there's a Radiohead, and for each Clash a Public Enemy render it as much fiction as fact.
And to be sure, despite the crumminess of the lead song (have I mentioned that I don't much care for it?), The American Adventure
finds the Brothers White fighting gamely to maintain altitude. "Bruxellisation" breezes by on a nifty bit of guitar picking, chattering drums and wispy vocals, and "Lights Out" rides some tense verses into an explosive chorus, building some momentum. But all forward progress dissipates via the very dull "Wrongest Thing in Town," while the pump organ-fueled "Lose Yer Frown" and the leaden, meandering, seven-minute long title track find the album entering a tailspin that only a never-produced miracle could possibly pull it out of. "Headacheville" feels like an endless wank, abundant with nervous tension and precious little release, an underwhelming chorus and bridge leading to some truly uninspired guitar noise, all technique and no substance.
Last time out, little moments added up to grand symphonies for the Electric Soft Parade. On The American Adventure,
they're too often reduced to playing magical little moments within otherwise uninspired songs, as with the choral harmonies and electronic bits on the bridge of "Chaos" and the closing two minutes on "American Adventure." Perhaps it's time for the boys to go back to their rooms to try and get their act together for the third go-'round.