Review Summary: Another full-blown attempt at mainstream success.
Secondhand Serenade always seems to be having an internal struggle with itself. The “band”, consisting of solely the singer/songwriter John Vesely, began deeply rooted in acoustic work. Vesely’s debut Awake
was anything but groundbreaking, but the sincere lyrics and overflowing emotion gave the album a sense of personal touch and meaning. A Twist In My Story
aimed to expand Vesely's sonic palette, adding a polished alternative rock sound and putting a full band at his disposal. The whole progression was very Dashboard Confessional like, and as you might have guessed, the latter work was unable to match the quality of the debut. However, Vesely knows as well as anyone that you can only go so far with just an acoustic guitar. Secondhand Serenade’s third album, Hear Me Now
, sees him taking another stab at mastering that radio-pop sound, and unfortunately, it appears that he has once again missed the mark.
Hear Me Now
is essentially A Twist In My Story
part two, recycling the same hackneyed lyrics and clichéd song structures as it attempts every single time
to build to a catchy, emotionally climactic chorus. The theme is once again trapped within the confines of failed relationships and unrequited love, and at this point it seems that Vesely is either hung up on someone or using an obvious marketing ploy. Regardless of intentions, however, one thing is for sure: you have heard this album before. It is clear from the start that this is going to be another full-blown attempt at mainstream success. “Distance” features that all too familiar combination of whiny vocals, piano, violin, and drums building up to a chorus where Vesely puts his very average pipes on display. This recipe highlights the majority of Hear Me Now
, as the ensuing three-fourths of the record follows suit. “Something More”, the first single, is definitely radio ready if nothing else. It seems to borrow influences from both The Fray and Onerepublic, although a great deal of that arises from the production as opposed to an actual stylistic change. Songs like “You and I” and “Is There Anybody Out There”, while extremely polished, are not as catchy as the aforementioned single and are ultimately forgettable. The generic trends found on “Reach For The Sky”, “So Long”, and “Nightmares” only add to the album’s long list of filler.
Unfortunately, a lot of the songs on here only feel so tepid because Vesely refuses to break pace. Almost as if the album ran over from A Twist In My Story
, each track is a desperate attempt to get the listener to connect with Vesely’s emotional state. Had he used more restraint in his songwriting and chosen his climaxes more carefully, the listener would have a much better chance at feeling some kind of empathy or appreciation for what he is going through. Instead, it ends up becoming a chore, like listening to a friend complain constantly about a relationship that he/she should have moved on from two or three albums – I mean weeks – ago. Nobody likes spending their time that way, so why would they do it on this album? Sometimes in music, no change begets negative change, and Hear Me Now
is a prime example.
Despite the god-awful redundancy present throughout the record, there are a few precious moments worth listening to. They do not by any means salvage the album, but they make it possible to listen to without quitting midway through. The title track “Hear Me Now” features a duet with Juliet Simms of Automatic Loveletter, and their voices actually function well together to construct the atmosphere of desperation and hopelessness that Vesely failed to convey on his own. “World Turns” marks a return to the stripped-down sound of Awake
, which provides a small breath of fresh air, at least from a songwriting and instrumental perspective. “Stay Away” almost lends itself to a pop-punk style in the verses, which is enough of a difference from the norm to keep things fresh. Unfortunately, moments like these are short-lived for Secondhand Serenade, and Vesely always manages to fall back into old habits.
For all intents and purposes, Hear Me Now
suffers from a refusal to experiment with Secondhand Serenade’s established sound. Repetition has its place in individual songs. Rarely, it will have its place over the course of an entire album. But there is never a reason for it to plague almost every song of two back-to-back releases. There are too many dull and forgettable moments, too many attempts at emotional grandeur, and too few sincere attempts at “shaking things up.” Unfortunately for Secondhand Serenade, their sound is not good enough to repeat to this extent and outside of a select few moments, very little on Hear Me Now
qualifies as new