Friday, March 28, 2014

More For The Fans . . . Foiled For The Last Time Celebrates Blue October’s (Commercial) Peak!

The Good: Good lyrics, Good vocals, Decent instrumental accompaniment, Good duration
The Bad: Repetitive for those not agog over Blue October.
The Basics: The two-disc Foiled For The Last Time is Blue October’s breakout album alongside a live version of the album.

Over the years, my wife has become quite the fan of the band Blue October. That means that I both listen to quite a bit of Blue October and that some of the gifts she cherishes from me are albums she came to the relationship with that I later upgraded with deluxe versions. Like many Blue October fans, my wife was drawn to the band by the strength of their breakout album Foiled (reviewed here!). Foiled is a good album (not Blue October’s best!) and the band was producing legitimate, emotional, interesting rock and roll at a time when pop-rock was pretty much dead (sublimated on Top 40 stations to hip-hop and dance music). So, when I found Foiled For The Last Time, it was a pretty obvious gift for me to give to my wife.

Foiled For The Last Time is a two-disc set that is good, but is a tougher sell for casual fans/listeners, especially those who already have Foiled. Foiled For The Last Time is Foiled (Disc 1) and “Teach Your Baby Well Live” (Disc 2). Because I’ve already reviewed Foiled, this review will focus exclusively on Disc 2 of Foiled For The Last Time. Foiled For The Last Time is essentially a live version of Foiled without “Congratulations” or “Calling You,” but with “For My Mother” and “Angel.” The live versions are interesting and “Angel” is good, but it’s a tough sell to say that Foiled For The Last Time is worth it to those who are not already fans of Blue October or who are thinking of an upgrade to Foiled. For sure, I would recommend Foiled For The Last Time as a “buy first” over Foiled, but if you’ve already shelled out for the one version, it’s hard to justify spending again for the upgrade.

With fourteen tracks, clocking out at more than sixty-five minutes of music, Foiled For The Last Time is very much the work of Blue October. The album is entirely written (with three tracks co-written) by the band’s lead singer, Justin Furstenfeld. The quintet plays their own instruments, including Justin, who plays guitar and harmonica on various tracks. Foiled For The Last Time was not produced by Blue October, but considering they were releasing the two-disc version for their fans, it seems unlikely they would have allowed the live versions of their songs to be released if they were not pleased with the way they sounded.

Vocally, Foiled For The Last Time is dominated by the vocals of Justin Furstenfeld. Furstenfeld has a smooth voice, for the most part; he only gets raspy when he presents lines filled with anger. The rest of the time, he sings in the higher tenor range and all of his lyrics are completely comprehensible on Foiled For The Last Time. Only on two or three songs does Furstenfeld get overwhelming assistance on his songs from the audience (predictably, “Hate Me” is one of them). Fortunately, this is far less than most “live” albums and as a result, the live conceits are hardly as annoying as they could be. Unfortunately, this particular live album helps to reveal just how little production goes into the vocals or instrumentals of Justin Furstenfeld or Blue October. Furstenfeld sounds virtually identical on both albums, so there are no radical vocal reinterpretations of the Blue October songs on Foiled For The Last Time.

Neither are there dramatic musical alterations on Foiled For The Last Time. Blue October is essentially a guitar, bass, percussion band and they sound quite similar “live” as they do on the produced album. In fact, only the live version of “Drilled A Wire Through My Cheek” sounds significantly more electric “live” than the rest of the set and it still does not sound quite as produced as the original version. As a result, Foiled For The Last Time is largely a collection of two mildly-different versions of some wonderful songs with a couple of minor differences (like crowd noises and an occasional bit where the production was kicked up on the album, usually almost imperceptibly).

What remains largely constant on Foiled For The Last Time is the quality of the lyrics. To be fair to the alternate presentation, it wasn’t until I listened to the acoustic version that I truly heard the lines to “Let It Go.” Furstenfeld plaintively sings “Follow me home / Through the, the maze and on / I'll show you the road /That I led you the wrong way on / Why did I go that way? / Why do I steal? / How could I let her go? / Why do I feel?” (“Let It Go”) and it’s shocking how easy it is to overlook the song on the first album given how powerful of a statement he is making.

The song unique to Foiled For The Last Time is “Angel.” “Angel” is about loneliness and being abandoned/unrecognized. With lines like “How do you tell your Father, / That you want him to notice you? / Why does this seem like such a bother? / When mom says you'd be better off dead / But I want to see you / I still want to see you / Oh would you call me?” (“Angel”), Blue October at least gives consistency in the quality of its exclusive track on the dual-disc album. “Angel” is one of the few angsty songs Furstenfeld wrote about his childhood, as opposed to his role as spouse or parent.

For those otherwise unfamiliar with Blue October, the band is largely known for its angst. Justin Furstenfeld frequently sings about the dissolution of his marriage, depression and anger. The emotional complexity of Furstenfeld’s songs is embodied by “18th Floor Balcony.” On that musical storysong, Furstenfeld passionately writes, “And I'll try to sleep / To keep you in my dreams / 'til I can bring you home with me / I'll try to sleep / And when I do I'll keep you in my... dreams / I knew it from the start / So my arms are open wide / Your head is on my stomach / And we're trying so hard not to fall asleep” (“18th Floor Balcony”). The poetics translate well to music and they create a powerful mood on Foiled For The Last Time.

Ultimately, Foiled For The Last Time is worth the money and is the essential way to get the songs from Foiled, even if fans might begrudge spending twice on half the material. The best song on disc 2 is “Let It Go,” the weak track is “For My Mother.”

For other Blue October albums, please visit my reviews of:
Approaching Normal
Ugly Side: An Acoustic Evening With Blue October


For other music reviews, please check out my Music Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2014 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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