Monday, May 9, 2011

Plagues Of Generic Perky Christian Rock: Why Addison Road Flops.

The Good: Catchy hooks
The Bad: SHORT, Blandly pop, Lyrically simple, Musically derivative, Vocally chameleonic
The Basics: Despite having some decent hooks, the lyrics and generic sound to the vocals and instrumentals of Addison Road make the album worth avoiding.

It has been my experience, and I find it ironic, that few people complain if one steps up and attacks rap music. It is chic to attack rap music both for the form and the content. For sure, current rap music deserves much of it with its abysmal treatment of women (when your synonyms for "women" include "bitches," "hos" and "chickenneckers" it is pretty clear that you're not respecting the full range of what makes a woman), references to drugs, killing and theft, and the insistence on treating sex as something that often lacks an emotional context (my favorite had to be when a rap song replaced the word "fuck" with "gut" for radio airplay). My point is, it is easy to score some simple political points by poking at rap music. Rather oddly, though, Christian Rock seems to be a taboo subject to poke at. And while the form and substance of rap music is fair game, there seems to be a "hand's off!" policy among many critics toward either form or substance of Christian Rock.

Today, I burst that particular bubble by reviewing "Addison Road," the mainstream record label (as much as INO is "mainstream") of the band by the same name. Addison Road is a poor album and the form is entirely derivative and boring and the substance (message) is the most bland, perky interpretation possible for a Christian Rock message. This is sugarpop and when the message is not bland in an enthusiastic, "we can save the world!" type way, it is offensive with its "ONLY we can save the world!" themes. But at the end of the day, Addison Road is not providing anything new in an interesting enough way to justify listening to or purchasing this album.

With only ten tracks at a paltry 39:32, Addison Road sets itself up for critique by not using the medium to anywhere near its capacity. One suspects if one wishes to sing with a message, the power and import of that message might best be realized by there being more of it than less. The quintet may at least be credited with some genuine sense of artistry as they wrote or co-wrote all of the songs, save "Always Love." Jenny Simmons, the lead singer, performs on all of the tracks and she is backed by four young men who play their own instruments. Despite most of the songs having influence from writers not in the band, the most frequent collaborator appears to be producer Chris Stevens, who also is credited with additional keyboards and programming. In other words, it does seem like the folks at Addison Road are mostly in charge of their own musical destiny.

Unfortunately, that musical vision is some of the most bland and perky music to ever cross my desk; and this disc hit my player with no fanfare, no announcement. I had no idea who or what Addison Road was before putting the disc in and listening to it eight times. Sadly, it begins with the generically upbeat "This Could Be Our Day" and does not quit until the classic hymn sound of "What Do I Know Of Holy." The fundamental problem with Addison Road is that it is musically derivative and obvious and when it is not, the statements it makes are often cast in an "us vs. them" mentality. Both elements are problematic.

First, Addison Road seems completely incapable of establishing a sound that is at all its own. "This Could Be Our Day," "Hope Now," and "Start Over Again" could have easily fallen off Michelle Branch's The Spirit Room. Similarly, "All That Matters" has such an Avril Lavigne sound that it could have come straight off of Under My Skin. When not sounding like Michelle Branch or Averil Lavigne, as other tracks like "Casualties," "Always Love," and "Run" sound like, the band sounds far

To prove to myself I was not crazy, I played Addison Road for my wife, who is a fan of the genre. As one who is not a reviewer, my wife is allowed to skip through tracks and I noticed how quickly my partner tired of the instrumentals. "It Just Takes One" seemed to fair best with my wife, up until I pointed out that it sounded just like Maroon 5. Indeed, between "It Just Takes One" and the chords from "All That Matters" that could have come right off the single "Harder To Breathe," the male instrumental influences seem to want to recreate Songs About Jane. My wife made it through Addison Road much quicker than I did . . .

My point is, anyone who likes music, be it pop or rock music has already heard all of the instrumentals Addison Road has to offer on this album. But more than that, we have heard the guitar, bass, drums and keyboards playing more interesting songs and the songs have resonated because they have presented more universal lyrics. Instead, on Addison Road, the group seems determined to sing to its niche and truth be told, they do not seem to have much to say that has not been said better by other artists, especially in classic gospel music.

On Addison Road, the group stands up for their beliefs and that is an admirable thing. The problem with the lyrics tends to be how the lyricists frame their musical positions. Thematically, the album is generally about change ("This Could Be Our Day"), god's love ("Hope Now," "Always Love") and being saved in the Evangelical Christian sense ("All That Matters," "It Just Takes One"). And there is Creationist rhetoric ("What Do I Know Of Holy") and the concept that only through Christianity may one be truly happy ("Sticking With You"). As well, there is the theme of redemption ("Start Over Again" and "Run").

But the track that turned me away from Addison Road was the harshness of the us versus them philosophy on "Casualties." While many of the other songs are either positive or harmless for their perky preaching to the choir, "Casualties" is a song that is a rallying call against non-Christian Americans. Yes, this song frames it as a dialectic where one might either be Christian or American with their lines "He sees his life just pass by / Just another number in a suit and tie / No purpose here nothing to give / Is this what it means to really live? / His feet never touch the ground / His days fly by, he can't slow down / Casualties of the American dream / Have we lost our vision / Drifting off and living / Half asleep with a faint heartbeat / Just dying to be revived / I want to be revived" ("Casualties"). This harkens me back to the time when I was campaigning for Congress and I was reamed out by a Mennonite for being too tolerant of people. If it is all right to deride Public Enemy by declaring that they "go back to Africa," why is it somehow more offensive to suggest to Addison Road that they deport themselves to a theocracy of their choice, if that is what they truly want? The American Dream is one of tolerance and diversity, not creating an intolerant Christian nation where others are persecuted. "Casualties" is a troubling song in content and tone and it has been carefully sandwiched between "Always Love" and the redemptive song "Run." This is bothersome musically and thematically.

This is the most extreme and offensive example of the way Addison Road gets its message across. More of their music is banal in a pop way that is easy to disregard because the band is saying nothing that is truly new. So, for example, the themes of making a leap of faith and being devoted on "Sticking With You" are hardly original as phrased "You always hide behind yourself / You walk a lonely road with no one's help / I hate to break the news / You're headed for a fall / And if I have to jump / Then I'll jump / And I won't look down / You can cry, you can fight, we can scream and shout / I'll push and pull / Until your walls come down / And you understand I'm gonna be around / I'm sticking with you." This is more of an insipid pop song that is dancable in a vacant, sugarpop way the way most sugarpop is.

But most of the album is about joining the movement, becoming one with an effort to change the status quo and the mentions of love and, especially, the One, make it quite clear which direction Addison Road is pushing its listeners toward. "Start Over Again" is largely about converting and "This Could Be Our Day" is about being the instruments of god on Earth. It is easy to see the appeal to the younger listeners of Christian Rock with its perky evocation "What we do here is just the beginning / New life is starting at every ending / We are a part of the story unfolding / This is the weight of the world we are holding / This could be our day" ("This Could Be Our Day"). And herein I find my final content problem with "Addison Road;" it's teen melodrama. Just like the blasé and obvious teen melodramas on television where high school is the absolute most important time of life and every little thing is a huge deal, the way Addison Road sings about how only they (and, presumably, their listeners) can change the world to make it better is over-the-top melodramatic. Addison Road is not holding the weight of the world in their hands; they are observers to the problems in the world, to be sure, but the problems are bigger than they are and they - and their followers - are not going to be the ones to change them.

Vocally, Addison Road is so overproduced as to make it virtually impossible to determine how much of the natural voice or talent of the performers is their own. At best, the vocals sound like other, decent artists who have good voices.

In final analysis, Addison Road has created an album that is boring at best and troubling for its divisive message couched in themes of god and love. The world can get along when people have tolerance for other views and want to come to the table and have a willingness to respect other viewpoints. Addison Road explicitly states "hate will get you every time" ("Always Love") but then seems to have no problem with setting their love against the love other's have. And hypocrisy might well be the most offensive value being spread on this album.

The best track is the vacant pop of "Sticking With You" (I even have a dance for it!), the low point is the divisive and counter-message "Casualties."

For other poppy albums, please check out my reviews of:
The Forgotten Arm - Aimee Mann
Actually - Pet Shop Boys
Tear The World Down - We Are The Fallen


For other music reviews, please visit my index page by clicking here!
© 2011, 2009 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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