Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Less Light Than I Anticipated: Lifehouse's No Name Face Wears Poorly.

The Good: Energy, Most lyrics, Voice
The Bad: Musically unchallenging, Message
The Basics: I enjoyed this album vastly more than I predicted I would coming into it. However, pop-rock standards and poorly executed departures from that prevented me from recommending it.

[Note: This review was originally published as one of my first music reviews. While I have fleshed out a little of the 2001 review, I've left much of the review unchanged, for two reasons. One, I like having some of the energy I was feeling from when I originally wrote the review - and the music was immediate - in the work. Second, I'm far too lazy and uninterested to go back and relisten to this particular album. In other words, even though my tastes may have changed in the intervening decade (they have!), I am trusting my past self that this album was not terrible. Enjoy!]

The day I saw the music video for Lifehouse's single "Hanging By a Moment," I'll admit I was surprised. That the lead singer was so young caught me by surprise, especially considering how deep his voice was. And on that single? It's a catchy little tune. Not much more, but as far as catchy singles go, it's not terrible.

The problem with Lifehouse's No Name Face is summed up in the following two statements: The songs are pop-rock standards and those that aren't stray unrealistically away from that. Allow me to elaborate:

First, you open with a song that's pretty much the archetypal pop-rock standard. "Hanging By a Moment." It's catchy in tune, pleasant enough to listen to and just incoherent enough that you want to hear it a few more times to be sure you've gotten the lyrics right. It has a decent guitar, bass, drums combination that makes it seem attainable to play and enjoyable to listen to. Now that the single has been huge, most listeners to the album won't need further repetitions to catch it. The rest of the tracks ought to be so lucky. Most of the remainder of the album is pretty much the same type of song, like "Quasimodo" and "Everything." Like most pop-rock albums Lifehouse suffers from a lack of musical imagination. The music behind "Quasimodo" and "Unknown" are far too similar.

The second problem is when the band strays. It's not a "damned if you do, damned if you don't situation:" Sophie B. Hawkins, for example, puts together albums that are diverse and succeed. In Lifehouse's case, the problem is when they diverge from being pop-standards, it goes into the Christian Rock genre. And while there's nothing inherently wrong with that, Lifehouse doesn't seem to do it that well. Or perhaps it's just hard to take them seriously. In one of the songs that I actually tried not to like, "Breathing," I found I enjoyed the lyrics and the music wasn't bad, but I couldn't distance myself from the artist. That is to say that the image of the lead singer in the video I saw tainted the depth of the words. The short of it is, it seemed phony. It goes back to the "teen angst" thing and, if you read other reviews of mine you'll discover, I'm tired of it. In this case it seems especially bothersome. If you're going to be a Christian Rock group, it's hard to pull off angst; that is, it's difficult to say "God is great, god is good" (which, Lifehouse does vastly more subtly than real Christian rockers) and say "Can't change this feeling I'm out of touch." ("Somebody Else's Song").

On the plus side, some of their songs genuinely rock. I'm particularly impressed by the second track, "Sick Cycle Carousel" which is at least ten times more catchy than "Hanging By a Moment" and thrice as good. I suspended my disbelief on that song well enough; the song is so good, it doesn't matter who's singing it. It's a very universal feeling.

And to the credit of the lyricist, it's well written. I was prepared to not like Lifehouse based on the lyrics of "Hanging By a Moment" being too ephemeral and poppy. Instead, I was pleasantly surprised. "Everything," the final track, for instance, is well written and sung with passion. This surprised me quite a bit because it's a very spiritual song and I'm not usually prone to enjoy them. The plus Lifehouse has with "Everything" is that it doesn't pound the listener with god. In fact, if one has a fear of Christian rock, this is probably the best album to pick up to dispel that. Why? It's not preachy, it's not obvious. "Only One" works so well for me in that the rhyme scheme kept me guessing; that is when I heard an obvious setup for a standard pop rhyme, it was not realized. I liked being kept on my toes like that and it's a rare thing these days.

The final analysis is this: two or three strong songs aren't enough to make up for the other nine tracks, which aren't bad per se, they're just unmemorable or (if I'm considering "Hanging By a Moment" to be in this category) just too familiar. The strengths of the lyrics and voice (which come together perfectly on those two or three tracks) do not outweigh the generally standard music and unimaginative instrumentals.

The strongest links are: "Sick Cycle Carousel" and "Only One." The weakest link is "Cling and Clatter."

For other works by male bands, please check out my reviews of:
Everything You Want (single) - Vertical Horizon
I Don't Know What You Want But I Can't Give It Any More (single) - Pet Shop Boys
Number Ones - The Bee Gees


For other music reviews, please click on over to my index page!

© 2010, 2001 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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