Review Summary: Proof that flawless is not a synonym for perfect.
Despite the obvious wealth of talent and artistic integrity that lies beneath the surface, it's impossible to escape the fact that the popular music industry is often largely image-based. Dedicated though they may claim to be, half of Oasis' fanbase would disappear if the band weren't from Manchester, and the same is true of many mainstream artists' supporters in one way or another. That's why record labels employ people to style the people they represent; to some extent, producing pop music is a matter of appealing to demographics. The Jonas Brothers need to seem innocent, Britney needs to seem risqué, and so on. But possibly the best example of this phenomenon sits with whoever tailored John Vesely's image. Through the medium of music, his pseudonym Secondhand Serenade sounds like your typical nasal pop-punk frontman with more force behind his vocals and more going on in the accompanying music. You'd probably put your house on him being in his early 20s, and a fair amount on him being single and odd-looking. You'd certainly never guess that this melodramatic pop(-rock) singer-songwriter was 27 and divorced. Kids with fringes just don't relate to guys who are nearly 30, right?
So you have to wonder where all the material for A Twist In My Story
comes from, given his situation. If it's fabricated, then Vesely is a brilliant liar; the conviction behind his cross-faded vocals on Suppose imply a very real experience, as do most of the passionately delivered choruses on this record. Granted, the range of emotions and topics is hardly groundbreaking – girls, girls and more girls – but sometimes simplicity achieves more than depth, and this is one of those times. Sometimes those sentiments cross over into the clichéd musings of any random teenager, like the title-track, which is an exercise in unoriginal melodies, ineffective instrumentation and lyrical platitudes, but there are actually some real gems on offer, like Fall For You's So hold your breath, because tonight will be the night that I will fall for you, over again
. If you can't deal with simple and occasionally simplistic lyrics, you'll hate A Twist In My Story.
Thankfully, as long as some remnant (however small) of your 15-year-old self still survives, there's a good chance you'll find something heartwarming about Secondhand Serenade's second studio album; it sounds a hell of a lot like a more confident and slightly more poppy Dashboard Confessional, the latter quality not being in any way a bad thing. Tracks like Stranger showcase an ability to pen radio-friendly hits with enough power and subtle energy to warrant multiple plays, atop a permanently dramatic piano line and drums which, as is so often the case on this album, drive the chorus home brilliantly. The instrumentation on Twist is not overly complex, but it is very well composed – being the only member of the 'band', it's clear that Vesely is an impressive multi-instrumentalist and has a good grasp of how to write pop music. To add to that, the production is pristine but not so flawless as to ruin tracks by way of rounding every rough edge. The distant percussion in the background of Why is a good example of very subtly-executed nuance, and although it's by no means experimental or even brave, the record is better off for its small quirks.
Unfortunately, they are
small, and it makes it difficult to replay this album too frequently when there is so little originality and risk-taking. Tempos change and instrumentation changes and there are acoustic tracks and plugged-in numbers, but it still all maintains that faux-bedroom vibe you might know from Dusk And Summer, and it gets a little bit tiring. The tracks are good enough, but none of them (bar, perhaps, Fall For You) ever reach the heights that need to be hit when you're talking about recording something this derivative and populist; it's easy-listening, and angsty teens will find a hell of a lot to offer here; the melodies are sometimes fantastic and the guitars, though inoffensive, are pleasant and sometimes impressive. But that's not enough. Unless you find a special personal connection to some of these songs it's unlikely you'll ever fall in love with them because they don't force the issue enough. A Twist In My Story is a well-written album by a man who clearly knows what he's doing, but it's a record that's been released plenty of times before, and sometimes better.