Review Summary: Shifting Skin has some of Ken Andrews' best written songs, but the album as a whole is a classic example of "not enough variety."
What if Nirvana never formed? What if the world never fell in love with “Smells Like Teen Spirit” and that song never completely changed the pop music landscape forever? How would today’s music sound? Think back to the 80s and the music scene. Hair metal, electronic experimentation, synth pop, New Wave - it would have all continued to advance. And much like the genres of the 90s, they would all begin to blend. If we wiped the grunge movement off the face of history, I think today’s music would be something like Ken Andrews’, under the moniker of On, Shifting Skin
. "Soluble Words" feels like a remastered 80s pop hit. Now of course, On would have never existed because Andrews came from the band Failure, which drew inspiration from the grunge movement, but the music found on Shifting Skin
seems to have no recollection of such a time period.
Unlike Failure, On puts the guitars in a secondary role while Andrews experiments with synthesizers and electronic drums. In this musical transformation, the album title Shifting Skin
seems perfectly appropriate. With Andrews switching from primarily a musician to more of an audio engineer/producer, this is not the same man that fronted Failure. The music heard here has a cheerier, more uptempo style about it. However, this change is not immediately significant. As “C’mon Collapse” sweeps in, the guitar chord progression sounds like “The Nurse Who Loved Me” twice as fast. Then the drums and synth bass line enter and suddenly, everything starts brewing quickly and the guitar becomes background noise. Clearly, something is different. Finally, it all makes sense when Andrews sings “C’mon collapse now, it’s the time when everything comes out” and the music simply explodes and the guitar goes away almost completely. “C’mon Collapse” provides an explosive summary of Shifting Skin
, written brilliantly and immediately hooks the listener in for a great ride into the bulk of the album.
signifies another major change in Andrews’ music - a more vocal-centric tendency. His vocals are the most memorable, powerful, and enjoyable of any of his releases, proving that when given the opportunity, he can make up for what has always been a fatal flaw. While his lyrics sometimes sound cheesy and overdone (“I’m gonna slingshot around your star, you’ll stretch my gravity too far”) he sings everything with confidence. The childishly written “Feel at Home” begins with the plain, hopeful lyrics “Everyone is gonna like her, everyone is gonna make her feel alright”, but with the light piano and airy feel of the song, the style only enhances the song’s atmosphere. Although hit or miss, the lyrical content on Shifting Skin is consistently better than Andrews’ other works save Fantastic Planet
, where he explored the ranges of heroin addiction with brilliance.
The form of each song makes it obvious as to how Andrews wrote his songs. He based most of his melodic material of off guitar riffs, as those riffs generally begin each song. Sometimes, he makes a drum groove the backbone of the song, but still, the guitar lays down the chord progression. From there, he most likely built all of the electronic melody on top. The predictability of his song structures lead into a major flaw, lack of variety. Andrews soaked his compositions in electronica and for a while, it sounds interesting and fun. With no noticeable change in sound, things are bound to get boring. Taken out of context, songs like “Building…” and “Perfect Imposter’ have incredible atmosphere and are actually some of the best written songs on the album. Unfortunately, their placement on the album makes them forgettable in a full run-through of the album. Still, Shifting Skin
showed Ken Andrews into his post-Failure musical career and paved the paths he would take for the years to come. And in songs like “C’mon Collapse”, one of his best songs ever, it makes me wish Nirvana never happened and this music ran rampant across the airwaves.