Review Summary: With the exception of a few songs, you will know a track's progression by its opening chords. The lyrics impress, but don't supplement.
*Note that this review is written in retrospect, and is intended for those who are familiar with the album, and not as a buying guide.*
When DGARIM dropped in 2006, I was astounded by the lyrical depth and punching power of the album. However, I now find myself only listening to certain tracks, and skipping the majority of the album. I pondered why this was, and summed up my thoughts in two points:
1. It lacks a “full band” sound:
Similar to a band drawn around one extremely talented guitarist, Brand New never really displays that anyone is in the band besides Jesse Lacey. His lyrics take the forefront, and his voice garners the rest of your attention. After his contributions, "Brand New" becomes transparent.
The guitarist, drummer, and bassist display a basic level of skill. Unfortunately, basic skill belongs to Youtube cover-kids and the bands that back pop acts. I comprehend that Brand New’s sound isn’t meant to establish a blazing pace. However, the song structure never changes!
1. Sowing Season: Verse, Chorus, Verse, Chorus, Verse, Chorus
2. Millstone: Verse, Chorus, Verse, Chorus, Bridge, Chorus
8. Not the Sun: Verse, Chorus, Verse, Chorus, Bridge, Chorus
11. Archers: Verse, Chorus, Verse, Chorus, Bridge, Chorus
I guarantee you that the tracks I did not list share a familiar progression.
I am always discouraged when instrumentalism is supplemented by vocal or lyrical work. Ask yourself this: Are the opening notes to Sowing Season good enough to merit their inclusion through the entire song (verse and chorus)? Did the embarrassingly simple drum beat in Deguasser really grab your attention? Can you recall any mindblowing instrumental moment on this album? I'm not asking for exemplary technique or speed...but something that grabs you and shakes you with the ferocity that Lacey's lyrics provide.
I should elaborate that I couldn’t imagine Jesus being structured in any manner different than it exists. For displaying only two chords, and an isolated melody, it is shockingly on target. But come on guys, SOMEWHERE in the album you have to break out of the pop-rock monotony! I find myself listening to this album strictly to hear Jesse Lacey, and as the other members of Brand New, I would be embarrassed of my self-marginalization. The guitarist briefly sticks his head out in the climax of “Limousine”…but, surely enough, that only fills fifteen seconds in a seven-minute song. The musicians hit the mark on certain poignant moments (the opening of Limousine, Jesus Christ, Sowing Season)...and then say "good enough" and write little else.
In summation, the members of this band besides Lacey could be any other person, and it wouldn't matter.
2. They blew "Limousine"
Oh yes, Brand New’s pride and glory. If I were to poll Brand New fans, I feel they would elect Limousine as this album’s lyrical masterpiece, since it is based off the emotionally wrenching tale of a young girl's tragic death in an accident. At the albums release, I was floored by the song. However, after several listens and critical analysis, I came to a startling revelation: the song doesn’t make sense.
The song is literally packed full of quotable lines, but they aren’t completely useful in context. I liked its background story so much that I WANTED it to work…but tragically, I am left reaching for explanation and meaning in a topic that should be easily relatable. If you are objecting to this point, I inquire: What perspective is the song written in? The mother’s? Definitely in the beginning, and I suppose you can substantiate some of the metaphors. But what about the middle of the song? The driver? Who is stating the most famous line in this song?
“One’ll love you so much, but do me a favor, baby, don’t reply…cause I can dish it out, but I can’t take it.”
How anticlimatic. What should be the most emotion-ridden segment of the song is weighed down with vagueness. Who is speaking and what can they dish out? Every Brand New fan spouts their response, but in actuality, there is no good answer. This isn’t a “analyzed by critical discussion” lyric…it is a lyric that leaves you reaching for explanation. Some may find this vagueness enlightening, but when the song is grounded is tragic fact, I would prefer prose that is logical, articulate, profound, and expresses the pain of loss and the idiocy of drunk driving.
This line IS the climax of the song. This is where they can develop an emotional outburst that is a kick to the stomach of anyone who can feel. Instead, they write a line that requires REACHING (while the strongest segment "I'll never know..." goes on nearly silent in the background).
This section is normally explained by fans through numerology (he counts to seven because that was the girl's age, etc.) Obviously, I have a huge problem with this approach because its a damn cop-out. I could make any Taylor Swift song deep if I searched for ridiculous explanations and used numerology. In this instance, I could suppose that they repeated the chant twelve times because that's the number of letters in "manslaughter". Maybe they count to the number seven because that's the amount of letters in "alcohol". The lyric plays out like a cheap "love is woe" line, and then has to be explained by fans of the band. I'm not illiterate and I'm not missing the point. They could have capitalized, and they didn't.
This song could have been something more, something that was emotionally destructive and musically invigorating. It could have been an example of a perfect piece of music. Instead, it rides its assumed success, and we pay the price for it.
Most of the songs do lyrically succeed though. If I were analyzing poetry, this album would receive an a definite 4. Unfortunately, this is a music review, and most of Brand New's music leaves me flat.