Review Summary: Solid self-funded power-pop debut plays it safe for the most part, but is fairly proficient in doing so. It’s a shame some of the neat ideas contained on this album aren’t quite fully capitalized on.
Parochialism only goes so far in the music industry. It would be nice to support your nation’s bands for the most part, but music is rightly universal and ultimately the success of an artist is not going to come down to what country they come from. It is going to depend on the quality of the music and also the style of music. There are instances when certain styles, or in some cases whole genres, simply are not all that well-received in a particular country. If you happen to play that kind of music and the country happens to be your homeland, then you better look elsewhere to make a living.
It seems that is exactly what Californian band Orson have done. Practically unknown in their home country and most other nations of the world, the band hit pay-dirt in the United Kingdom a couple of years ago with this debut effort. So much so that it got to #1 on the charts. What was especially impressive was that the album was pretty much made on the cheap and funded by the group themselves!
In a way, their trans-Atlantic success is not all that surprising since Orson’s different play on the power-pop genre has a decidedly British feel similar to that of bands like The Killers & Ok Go. It is fairly well shown on the opening title track and 2nd single. There is just enough guitar apparent in this grower of a song to get it by and make it perfect for radio airplay. Breakout hit ‘No Tomorrow’ follows and shows the band at their best when their music is a little more dance-oriented. Energetic and charismatic, it’s a nice mix of synths and sprinklings of guitar that just works beautifully.
3rd single ‘Happiness’ shows some of the band’s fallibilities though. A slower throwback kind of track, it isn’t a bad attempt at something different with its almost soulful sound, but is only partially successful and not helped by an out-of-place guitar solo and being overlong. Almost the exact same problems occur on later tracks ‘Downtown’, ‘Last Night’ and ‘Look Around’.
Orson work best when they keep their songs shorter and energetic, as can be seen with track 6 ‘Tryin To Help’. At 3 minutes in length, it is an energetic track that is up-tempo and has an effectively catchy chorus. The band also uses melody well on a couple of occasions, most notably track 4 ‘Already Over’ and penultimate track ‘Save The World’. Both are mid-tempo songs with the former having an excellent vibe and personality about it and the latter containing hints of The Beatles within the harmonies. It is actually a song that I am surprised hasn’t popped up in the background of a superhero movie or television series as yet.
Lyrics throughout the album are pretty much of the standard radio airplay kind, with the break-up subject in ‘Already Over’ probably being the most effective. Instrumentation also plays it safe, although the band obviously has some kind of complex when it comes to how they are perceived because there are simply too many guitar solos thrown in to pad out a song. That may be fine if the lead guitarist is in the top echelon of his field, but at most times, the solos appear forced and actually work against the individual tracks.
Overall, this is a solid debut effort that plays it safe for the most part, but is fairly proficient in doing so. This can make the album tracks appear bland to some people, if not bad. Thankfully, there is sufficient subtle variety and a catchy quality to more than allow the album to get by, even if some neat ideas are not fully capitalized on. The better songs on the album are energetic and melodic power pop numbers with a dance-oriented feel, which is not the easiest thing to pull off successfully. So no matter what your take on this particular album, there is undoubted potential with Orson and this is worth a listen to if you like music from the likes of The All-American Rejects, Maroon 5 and/or Franz Ferdinand.
Recommended Tracks: No Tomorrow, Already Over & Tryin’ To Help.