Why Better Than Ezra? Kevin's old band was Ezra and he felt that his new band was better than Ezra. Simple, huh? New Orleans' Better Than Ezra has been a struggling band since its major-label debut album Deluxe
garnered success. Their single "Good" received massive amounts of airplay in the mid-90s and managed to bring the disc to platinum status. They were then dropped as their "flavour of the week" title had run its course with Elektra. Undeterred, they recorded Friction, Baby
in 1996, which was a solid album in its own right (despite "Hung the Moon" stealing more than a little from Hendrix's version of "All Along the Watchtower"). "Desperately Wanting" returned the band to the radio, but their style had become more rock-influenced and they began to fall out of the trends in the eyes of the musical world. Again, they were not distracted by public opinion and returned to the studio to record and release 1999's How Does Your Garden Grow
. Since then, they have continued touring and making music, releasing the pop-piecemeal Closer
in 2001. Their most notable influence in music has been Howie Day, who has been known to cover BTE tracks, most notably the seminal "At The Stars," the crowning moment of this album.
And thus spake thine reviewer.
Je ne m'en Souviens pas
- Translated as "I do not remember it," this eclectic song is a wonderful introductory piece to the diversity of the album. The drums are constant throughout but fresh and with a little innovation. Electrically-manipulated vocals run circles around the rhythm but manage to present their own. The lyrics aren't very important and aren't treated as so, with "smells like a dirty bathroom" appearing in a lo-fi speech part exhibits. As a whole, it is atmospheric (woodwinds floating on top of everything, interesting-but-subdued bass) and gives the "Series of Nocturnes" precursor of the album title some ground.
One More Murder
- Piano starts this one. It sounds like a rainy evening, again using varied instrumentation and touches of serialism in the background. Lyrically, it is along the lines of the "Stop Handgun Violence" disclaimer found in the cd booklet. Politics aside, the rhythm is strong and the song owes much of its appeal to that.
At The Stars
- This may be familiar if you listened to the radio around the release of this album. It did not particularly help the album sell very well, but this is easily the strongest track on the album and a personal favorite in the world of music. Acoustic guitars, accompanying piano, occasional lead fills with intermingling violins & cellos, and drums that siphon a little from the previous track, the song is simply stellar. It is like every midnight drive ever taken compiled into one short song. To this day, it amazes me with its beauty and deserves a listen by anyone.
Like It Like That
- This breaks the laid-back mood of the previous tracks. There is a Mardi Gras feel to the percussion and overall feel of the track. Electric guitars make their full appearance with overdriven tones. I believe this was also released as a single, but it pales like quartz to a diamond in comparison to the previous track. "She blow like a tsunami" is worth a good laugh, though.
- Again, this is more Southern-influenced and more like their older material. It's not particular interesting in any respect but it is a nice carefree song. Vocal sampling (from the Three Stooges?) appears in a breakdown, putting a new element in the standard Better Than Ezra bridge. Subtle leads work well, too.
- Ghost notes on the snare! Delightful. They help accentuate the lyrical subject of love lost and the recollection of memories. The string arrangements make this piece stand out. A repeated arpeggiated guitar line and background bells round it out. Respect to ramen noodles and Leonard Cohen do nothing but help the song out. Memories can be a bitch and this song illustrates that.
- Another love song but this one is more longing for a relationship, however imperfect it may be. Unique tones in the instrumentation set it apart from the previous track, along with a hi-hat-heavy rhythm section. It's a bit more up-tempo than the previous and makes appropriate use of subdued verses and full choruses but without resorting to the "soft/loud" dynamics so common in post-Nirvana music. Lyrically, it is incredibly simple, but the delivery saves it a little. "I want you around" can't be salvaged very easily and so it hurts the track. Still, the instrumentation is excellent and the greater focus.
Happy Day MM
- It looks like "mama" but I assure you that it's pronounced "May-may." This song sounds like old BTE again and is much more up-tempo than the previous two tracks. Kevin's voice is light-hearted and his enthusiasm & delivery drive the song. Listen close and you will hear "pork chops and applesauce" appear out of nowhere. Overall, a nice breakaway track from most of the other songs and helps offset the next one.
- This is BTE's attempt at hard rock. It half-works. The lyrics aren't bad and the driving guitar isn't a standard four-chord stomper. Even "fuck me up, I'm begging you, please" works well, coming from a band not associated with neither profanity nor masochism!
- Kevin's still a bit sardonic at the start of this, but his bitterness goes away with a light bridge. The drums drive this track with a repetition of stuttering background electronics. The bass has a short breakdown sequence as the song build up to its "full orchestration." Kevin feels it adequate to vocally meander with the phrase "do it again" near the "end" before repeating the first line of the song. It's ended with Kevin going off and the rest of the music rhythmically peaking & dying. It's not a particular strong point, but it's not entirely weak, either. If anything, its downfall is the over-long end that drags itself out.
- In a phrase that's been so over-used, the words lose much of their meaning. Luckily, this track over-rules that trend. Delay on the drums with pretty minimalist guitar strengthens Kevin's sorrowful lyrics. The words describe the story of the confrontation between a man and his absent father. The rhyming of "come around" and "familiar sound" are probably the weakest parts of the song, but it's still damn good.
Everything in 2's
- Better Than Ezra knows how to prevent a mood from sticking around too much. Personally, I think the song is one of the worst on the album, but it's still not terrible. The high point is when Kevin sings, "so complicate me - I could use the weight." Otherwise, the instrumentation is standard-fare and, with the exception of the synths, could be used in just about any other song by any other band.
New Kind of Low a.) Low b.) Coma
- The worst part of the song is the first half. The heavy distortion under Kevin singing "I push the limits of good taste when I open my mouth" doesn't work well. The bass is mixed higher than usual, though, and adds some depth to the otherwise lacking first half. In "Pull," Kevin's anger worked. Here, it sounds trite and too happy. Luckily, that only lasts for about a minute and a half. Then, a Radiohead-influenced part kicks in. The bass again has its own voice here with the rest of the instrumentation, this time stand-up. The drums are standard-fare and negligible, but a welcome musical change from the first half. Once he returns, Kevin's voice finds its place in the song again and works effectively WITH the flow.
Waxing or Waning
- With this, the album closes. A fingerpicked acoustic guitar matches Kevin's voice without sounding too much like it, presenting a fuller sound. The drums are light jazz and quietly keep the background going. Classically muted horns keep the song different from the standard acoustic closer as they match the guitar interludes. Howie Day seems to have taken a little with the "nude at the top of the stairs" part. At least he has taste. As far as closing songs go, this is exceptional. Considering the subtext of nocturnes, it ends the album in a manner much like settling down after a wild night on the town.
All in all, the album is solid. The guys branched out a little bit with their musicianship and it pays off. Unfortunately, it wasn't particularly well-received and is likely to disappear from every non-Ezralite.
3.5/5. Kevin is not a brilliant lyricist or guitarist, but he's competent. The same can be said about Tom and Travis. Nothing on here will change the face of music, but it is definitely worth a listen or two nonetheless. They don't rely on power-chord romps, screaming, or distortion to make their music. They let the songs create themselves naturally. Their subtle experimentation also helps keep the music from being too forgettable. I personally rank it higher (a solid 4 in my books) because I've been a fan for a while now. Unlike some other music in my collection, I take this out on a regular basis and still find little nuances in the music a full four years after its release.
If nothing else, listen to "At The Stars." I can't stress this enough. That song is beautiful.