The Good: Good lyrics, Decent voice
The Bad: Short, Fairly indistinct melodies
The Basics: My April musical Artist Of The Month is Blue October, so I go back to their beginning and find The Answers to be an appropriately promising start!
April is here and now that I have gotten more into the rhythm of figuring out how many albums I can realistically get to in a month these days, I figured it was time to find an artist who had a pretty limited selection (or who I had some experience with already!). For that, I decided to turn to Blue October and I am fairly confident that as my April Artist Of The Month, I will manage to get to the remaining albums by the band that I have not yet reviewed.
The truth is, my wife is a big Blue October fan and she has helped me get an appreciation for the group. To start out my proper study of the group, I went back to their beginning. Their debut album was The Answers and it is an interesting combination of the worthwhile lyrics of Justin Furstenfeld and his wonderful voice . . . without much in the way of creative musical backing. The Answers is notable in that none of the songs has a catchy or memorable enough tune to make one hum it after they are done listening to the album. In other words, while the band had a promising start, it is fairly obvious why The Answers was not their breakout album.
With thirteen songs clocking out at 57:07, The Answers is very much the creative vision of Justin Furstenfeld, who is the core of Blue October. Justin Furstenfeld wrote all of the songs and provides all of the lead vocals. He also plays guitars, piano and drums on the tracks, with the rest of the band picking up the instrumental slack that he has for any of the songs. Justin Furstenfeld co-produced the album as well, so this album was very much under his creative control.
Musically, The Answers is not a traditional rock and roll album and it has a different sound from other Blue October albums. The presence of the violin, mandolin, and more pianos gives the band a slower, smokier sound. There are no edgy guitars on this album - save some aggressive strumming on "Mr. Blue's Menu" - and the quieter, more overtly moody sound to the album is very emo. It also makes for a more depressed, less angry, sound than other Blue October albums.
Vocally, Justin Furstenfeld has his distinctive, smooth mid-range vocals for all of the songs on the album. On The Answers, Furstenfeld sings clearly and directly, making sure all of his lyrics may be heard. He does not emote very much; he does not strain his range and outside the primal (not quite-)screams on "Mr. Blue's Menu" he does not even hold any of the notes particularly long on this album. Instead, he is very much a musical storyteller on The Answers, making sure his lines are translated well to the musical medium.
Fortunately, Justin Furstenfeld has something to say on The Answers. The album is lyrically moody, but Furstenfeld makes sure his vocals carry even cramped lines like "There's a part of me seeking and desperately needing to open up. / That's strange 'cause I'm an open book, a confused boy. / I'm an automatic steeple for depressed and lonely people. / My heart while in its cage, / give and not receive a thing, / But the only funny thing is that I don't know how to give myself advice" ("The Answer"). He even makes some of the tricky poetics sound like they fit!
Most of the songs are depressing or about depression. Even so, Furstenfeld does no translate much of it into anger. In fact, only "Breakfast After Ten" contains the genuine rage that Furstenfeld would later be known for. When he sings "You got to make her know how it feels to miss you / Let her know you're swapping spit / You're not the one with all the problems / She's the one that's full of shit" ("Breakfast After Ten"), he manages to convey the anger without letting his worldsplitting rage out. That makes the tune far more listenable than some of his more aggressive, later, works.
And the album is not entirely angry or depressing. "For My Brother" has elements of hope to it. Poetically embodying hope - "And he tells me to sing, and I sing, /And I sing for my brother who keeps me sane / And tells me everything will be okay" ("For My Brother") - Furstenfeld makes sure The Answers does not stay mired in the darkest elements.
That makes for a listenable, but not extraordinary debut. With The Answers, Blue October illustrates how they had the fundamentals from the beginning; they just needed the experience and maturity to grow into a cohesive and balanced band.
The best song is "For My Brother" or "Blue Sunshine." The weak link is the more mundane "Italian Radio."
For other, former, Artist Of The Month selections, please check out my reviews of:
Endless Forms Most Beautiful - Nightwish
Opiate - Tool
Tunnel Of Love - Bruce Springsteen
For other music reviews, please check out my Music Review Index Page for an organized listing!
© 2015 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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