Saturday, June 30, 2007

I've been loyal without having something to prove

Somewhat exhausted and after a week with no Internet connection, I'm back! I'll catch up on everything eventually, but for now, I'm just going to copy up what I wrote about the new Click Five album, Modern Minds and Pastimes, on the day I bought it. I do think I underrated it at the time--written now, the review would sound a little more positive, but I think I still agree with all the general points made. My writing is probably too long, but when one of your favorite two bands releases a new album, it's hard to resist having too much to say.

Given how much I loved the Click Five's debut album Greetings From Imrie House, there was always a chance that the followup might disappoint--and it does. Don't get me wrong--it's generally listenable--but, while almost every song from their debut still makes my iPod nano two years on, I truly doubt the same will be true of Modern Minds And Pastimes--three or four songs, maybe. There are a lot of possible reasons--change in lead singer? songwriting? musical direction? budget?--that I might delve into later (some more important than others), but I think my thoughts can be summed up like this: where's the joy? GFIH, in addition to being chock full of hooks, was packed full of bouncing-off-the-walls, feel-good, youthful energy; even songs about how badly their girlfriend treated them were made to seem like almost the happiest thing in the world (possibly related to this change, music- and rhythm-wise, jerkiness has replaced the swirling of GFIH). It's not new-Kelly-Clarkson-esque angst (maybe more on that later), but where are the songs that make me want to sneak off to my room, lock the door, and dance?

I suspect one of my main problems, one of the hurdles I keep running into, is new lead singer Kyle Patrick (formerly known as Kyle Dickherber)'s voice. It's not that it's a bad voice, and trust me, I wanted almost nothing more than to be fine with the singer switch; wishing for original lead singer Eric Dill's voice, after he left the band, seems like siding with the parent who's run out on the family. Change happens, I know; music evolves. We all know cases where fans go crazy and refuse to accept a new singer just because it's a change, and I wanted to avoid that, to show that I'm open to change--I wanted to love their new material even if it was different. Maybe especially if it was different, just to show that I was open to it. But there's a spark missing. Everything has been toned down--tempo, fun, even those high sung bits (gone, given Kyle's lower voice) and synthesizers. "All I Need Is You," performed live on tour by Eric, is the case in point for this problem. Slowed down and without Eric's distinctive and often high vocals, the song pops less, sounds more generic; it's still at least a good song, but it used to be great; now, it's close to the "aren't there a million other bands or singers that could make songs like this?" trend that prevails throughout much of the album.

I'm never sure to what extent songwriters have an impact on any given song, but it might be worth noting that, although keyboardist Ben Romans continues to be the main man behind the Click Five's music, the contributors have shifted--names like Andreas Carlsson, Kristian Lundin, and Chris Braide all crop up on MMAP, while GFIH had co-writers like Fountains of Wayne's Adam Schlesinger and KISS's Paul Stanley. Looking at those names, you'd probably expect me to side with the former's songs, but really, it seems like the Click Five create better pop songs when working with rock artists like the latter. Interestingly, my favorites tend to be written by Ben Romans and guitarist Ethan Mentzer with little or no outside help. If it means better songs, I'm all in favor of giving some or all songwriting duties to professionals, but that does make me wonder if the Click Five would have been better off with less help--or maybe just better help, since their songwriting instincts, though often excellent (my favorites on the first album also show the same trend), aren't always spot-on; witness "When I'm Gone," written by Ben and Ethan, a harder song which suits Kyle's vocals and should be an easy contender for any list of the album's best songs but is dragged down by what may be the worst instrumental break in music history. Though the break, which sounds like someone just let a bunch of teenage boys into a room full of musical instruments and told them to make noise, is short and quickly followed up with a nice (and also short) revving guitar part, it completely throws off the pace of the song. The rest of "When I'm Gone" is strong enough (very strong) to make it worth listening to, but as a single option or song to play to others, assuming no "single edit," it's irreparably maimed.

So, after all this, what are the songs to look out for? As mentioned before, "When I'm Gone" and "All I Need Is You" are, with the aforementioned caveats, good. Given the sticker on the front of the album, "Happy Birthday" may be the next single (if they even get one), and it's OK in a generic sort of way, mainly based on this repeated up-and-down vocal hook. "Addicted To Me" may have a title that makes me think of Anthony Callea's "Addicted To You," but it was definitely the pleasant surprise of the album; the Click Five's trademark synths have never sounded more '80's than on this somewhat sparse track. Though "I'm not a killer/I'm just killing your doubts" may be a heck of an awkward lyric, the music is great, rhythmic switchups and all, even if it doesn't start to come together until the first bridge. "Flipside" should be more of a highlight than it is; it sounds like it was influenced by the time spent opening for McFly last summer, though the "doo-doo-doo"'s, the most obviously co-opted element, are more first album McFly than the later McFly they were actually touring with. I adore McFly and love nonsense syllables and handclaps in music, but these almost seem half-hearted, cheap. The chorus is harder and more explosive and, in context, good, but without those stolen McFly traits, the song might not pop much. Lead single "Jenny," with its melancholy synths, may not have been the exuberant burst of guitar pop I was hoping for, but in retrospect, it's pretty good. As expected, "Headlight Disco" is a stand-out. The female voice (listed as "Amazingly Sexy vocal on 'Headlight Disco'" in the credits) may be disconcerting at first, the song at times may veer towards "we've found one good line, let's just keep reusing it," the synths may sound a tad cheap, and, like several other songs on the album, it doesn't know when or how to end, but the song is great overall--catchy chorus, good music in the verses, and, though not fulfilling my desire for uptempo dance-like-you-don't-care songs, it does bring back a sense of playfulness that GFIH had and that's missing from much of this album. If you like ballads, you may enjoy "Mary Jane," but, since it too was performed live with the original lead singer, I can't help imagining what it would sound like with him. Here, it may have been improved, though it's difficult to tell whether it's Kyle's voice or just studio production that has made the difference.

So, if you only buy three songs? Make it "Headlight Disco," "Addicted To Me," and "When I'm Gone." "Jenny," "Flipside," "All I Need Is You," and "Mary Jane" are all noteworthy. "I'm Getting Over You" (which I expect to be a grower), "Happy Birthday," and "Long Way To Go" (which has a primarily chanted chorus) are worth a listen, too. “Empty,” which I presume is the theoretical third single based on the album cover, would be a baffling choice (as would be “Happy Birthday” as a second single), as I suspect it, like the better "Resign" on GFIH, exists mainly so the lead singer has at least one writing (co-writing) credit on the album.

Headlight Disco

Addicted To Me

To buy the Click Five's second album Modern Minds and Pastimes, go here (physical) or, if you live in the U.S., visit iTunes.

Let me make one thing clear: this album is not perfect like their last one was--maybe a three out of five as opposed to a five out of five--but the Click Five are still one of the best groups out there.

(But will we ever again such a perfect pop moment as when Eric's voice soars over the penultimate chorus of "I Think We're Alone Now"?)


J'ason D'luv said...

Glad you're back!

Robpop said...



baz said...

welcome back ;) I recently discovered this great band, love their album i soooo have to buy it :)

Paul said...

yay my life has been bleak and dull without you especially after i listened to the click five album and wanted to talk to you instantly about it. I have decided that while their debut is a masterpiece of fun pop, this hasn't let me down at all, its a maturation of their sound, sure, but it still has some stellar moments as you so rightly point out. Hope you had a fun road trip :)

Poster Girl said...

Thanks, guys! :) It was fun, although a failure on the "catch up on tanning" front.

Baz, they're so great--definitely find their first album, too, if you can (if you buy it, the UK edition's a better purchase than the US version, since the UK version has their cover of "I Think We're Alone Now" instead of their cover of "Lies").

I know, Paul! No one around me appreciated it, so I had no one to talk to about it. Although I did hear "Jenny" on the radio for the first time ever--I freaked out ;) It actually sounds really good on the radio--it made me like it even more.

Baz said...

Yeah, i went to some Dutch Musicshops today lol but i couldnt find their album :( so i have to buy it online..have to find a good site now :)Keep it up!

Anonymous said...

Even if the click five has a new vocalist i still love them or should i say i love them more...kyle for me is awesome..he made the sounds of the click five not just a pop but a pop/rock tune...i love their new album and it whenever i hear their songs i cant help it but to sang with them...