Review Summary: How much do you like 70s rock?
Maturity is a special thing, among all its boundless possibilities, from the realizations that your youth beliefs were in fact as naive and foolish as that inkling in the back of your head had suggested. To finally finding out that, people in essence, aren’t that bad, or for some, are justifiably terrible. With maturity though, like so many things in life, one cannot put a price, or literal measure on how “adult” someone or is or in truth, how mature. Furthermore, this appropriates the need for a scale, of just what is and isn’t
mature. That’s not even considering its total worth, such as -- why would someone desire maturity? What are the benefits? Why should you change? What is really
wrong with acting youthful? Nothing, if anything we at times need to be reminded in our aging that there was a time in our lives where the most important thing was the weekend, and your day was determined by when and if you’ve finished your homework. As adults it is something we have the tendency to lack from time to time. Enter art, especially music, mediums in which humans are motivated -- nay, encouraged to question what our purpose is, further more its point to our growth and if anything, try to help us (not to mention the artist themselves) find a certain meaning in the level of monotony one can experience when you’re simply just trying to make your way. To call Free Energy “grown-up” or more so, to exclaim their James Murphy helmed (anti)DFA debut Stuck On Nothing
as a “mature” album is almost missing the point. This is a record built on a basis of youth-to-manhood, but not in the same way some may find with other growing-up
epics. Through Stuck On Nothing
, Free Energy proclaim themselves almost as a bar-band, presenting an album dripping with catchy, high flying jammy guitar licks, classic power-chord progression, warm keys and a cleanly mixed lead singer. But all allusions to vets like The Hold Steady and Spoon, as well as not-as-talented peers pretty much stops there. Where as the like of Kings of Leon and The Whigs try too hard for the stadium lights, while Craig Finn and Britt Daniels just are too scared -- Free Energy are the quintessential good ole’boys
with a brain, an English degree and a complex yet anthemic sound. Also it doesn’t hurt that Stuck On Nothing
may just be the best “classic rock” record you’re going to hear for a long, long time.
Prior to Free Energy, guitarist Scott Wells and singer Paul Sprangers were part of an almost equally retro band coined ‘Hockey Night,’ and soon enough after moving over to Philly they caught the ears of the LCD man himself James Murphy, and he nabbed the duo and brought them promptly to recording. This wouldn’t even have been anything more than a specific name drop of the good friends and connected arms Free Energy have fallen into -- except Stuck On Nothing
wouldn’t be anything nearly close to what is it without Murphy’s production. The band themselves stating; “we just weren’t getting the right sounds,” prior to their work with James, and it shows. You can hear Murphy all over the record, the push of the reverb on what would normally be very clean guitars, the superb use of string arrangements and brass flourishes, blatant psychedelia -- it all brings a sense of wonder and the serene to what could normally be chocked up as a early Weezer meets late Spoon knock off. Which wouldn’t be too far of a stretch considering the music plays up its holds in early 90s alt-rock and grunge almost as much it does to the ever abundant cues to brit-pop and the E Street shuffle. Sprangers as well is a bit of a secret hid up sleeve, starting off the album with leadoff single “Free Energy,” at first sounding like little more than some dude who really
hopes he sounds like Rivers Cuomo. But by the time you hit the songs guitar noodled end, Paul has morphed into some prophetic version of James Murphy (ironic almost), Tom Petty and The Boss. Which is almost a concrete representation of the album as a whole, as in it gets better as you listen. “Free Energy,” no matter how much “I’m the first single!” it may plead, is the albums weakest track. Which is phenomenal.
Through the jazz sax and melancholy mishap of “Dream City,” where Sprangers yearns for a world where “you know who you are”
and “your heart is feeling lighter.”
To the string infused rockers “All I Know” and “Bad Stuff,” the latter finding Sprangers calling out “for all you hopeless romantics!”
just to question “was there a time in your life without a war?”
later on the glorious “Young Hearts.” Free Energy express an accessible air about themselves in their music, but the massive hooks and easy-going vibe don't drown out the well written album underneath. Truthfully, its this quality of honesty sans pretension along with experimentation that gives Stuck On Nothing
such replay-ability and an almost prolific quality to it. Sprangers projecting a David Bowie like quality to himself, not to mention the rest of the band and music. Skipping the hoity-toity while employing their studio tricks, but still seemingly calling you to arms. When brilliant album closer “Wild Winds” reaches its ending bridge consisting of chants of “you’re not alone!”
you ***ing believe them. The words themselves holding a certain history in the rock cannon, Bowie expressing the same comforting cry many years ago, but here, it finds new breadth. In the hands of Free Energy, its an expression of vigor and motivation, not consolation. They’re not reminding you to take solace in the fact -- but rather, to grab your pitchforks and do something about it. Like many of their battle cries, and sociological musings its built for the air waves, but it will probably never reach them. Which is sad really, because by all accounts this was recorded in 1986, scrapped, remixed in like 93 and then released to lauded praise and massive sales. Or, well, you can only hope.