Thursday, October 15, 2009
The dominant meme in the rock press when discussing Built to Spill is: DOUG MARTSCH -- INDIE GUITAR GOD. It’s true Martsch can conjure some wonderfully melodic cliché-free solos, and nobody is more deft when it comes to creating texture through the layering of guitars. Nonetheless, it’s always been songs that set Built to Spill apart from the pack. In the 90’s when the band were creating masterpieces like Perfect from Now On and There’s Nothing Wrong with Love, songs such as “Car” and “Randy Described Eternity” poured forth from the speakers and into the listener’s brain, seducing and delighting with magnificent melodies and clever arrangements. The splendid guitars and enigmatic lyrics were the icing on the cake.
Which brings us to There Is No Enemy. Like its predecessor You in Reverse, this is Built to Spill sounding ordinary -- writing songs that anyone could have written… songs that I could have written. What passes for melody are simple little snippets of repeating verse that float over the chords. The chorus’s are a bit stronger, but still sound alarmingly predictable. In short, the songs don’t go anywhere, rather they waft about only to recede into the ether leaving nary a trace in your psyche. Some reviewers have commented on the strength of the lyrics, but for me, if the music isn’t happening, the lyrics, however brilliant, don’t register.
There are a few moment where the album manages to break out of the mode. One is the short, punkish “Pat”. With it's quirky arrangement and buzzing guitars, the band cuts loose, sounding energized and in their element. The other is the slow, heavy dirge “Life’s a Dream” which conjures Zeppelin at their darkest.
The album doesn’t necessarily suck -- to paraphrase Barack Obama’s description of Hilary Clinton during the primary it’s ‘likeable enough’. But a lot of bands do ‘likeable enough’. Built to Spill was always so much more.
October 15, 2009