Review Summary: They aren’t completely back yet, but something about the Gin Blossoms has changed…and it is for the best indeed.
It is an unstated truth that the Gin Blossoms’ best days are behind them. They peaked with their sophomore album, A New Miserable Experience
, and its follow-up Congratulations I’m Sorry
. The band basked in the glow of their back-to-back platinum selling records, which yielded the popular hits “Hey Jealousy”, “Found Out About You”, and “Follow You Down.” However, the ensuing years were not nearly as kind to five man rock/pop outfit. The Gin Blossoms never seemed to settle, and there was constant turmoil within the band. They broke up in 1997, which was eventually followed by a reunion in 2002 and the release of Major Lodge Victory
, which was met with mixed reactions and sold a modest 35,000 copies. Drummer Phillip Rhodes was also dismissed from the band around this time due to his ongoing alcohol addiction. 2010’s No Chocolate Cake
is the Gin Blossom’s newest effort, one that aims to return them to their former glory and more importantly, stabilize the band.
While No Chocolate Cake
is certainly a fun and easy listen, it does not quite live up to the bar set by A New Miserable Experience
. That isn’t necessarily a dooming statement, because every good band has a benchmark album that will, at some point or another, end up defining its career. In that sense, there is no shame in the Gin Blossoms creating an album that is light, accessible, and most importantly, in the moment
. Also, they manage to keep their vintage sound intact, resulting in another well crafted collection of songs. “Wave Bye Bye” harks back to the slow-but-poppy “Until I Fall Away”, with an endearing chorus and memorable lyrics of “This is the last time I’ll ever say I love you...the first and last time that I’ll cry and walk beneath the dark and lonely sky.” It is a traditional breakup song, and a fairly predictable one at that. But the Gin Blossoms seem fine with making songs that are simply enjoyable, and it serves to their benefit throughout Chocolate Cake
. “Miss Disarray” is another highlight, with an extremely catchy verse and a simple back-and-forth type of rhythm. Once again, the song doesn’t show us anything out of the ordinary, but the entire band seems in sync for the first time in a long while. And where the Gin Blossoms may lack slightly in exceptional material, they help to make up for it with an unprecedented tight sound.
In addition to the resurgence of the Blossoms’ chemistry, they seem to be having fun again. The vast middle portion of the band’s career had been marred by feuds, lineup changes, and breakups. Now, it apears that all the drama is in the past. It is important not to assume too much based on the music alone, but it certainly sounds
like they have turned the page to a new chapter in their careers. The opening track “Don’t Change for Me” is a shining example, with an upbeat bass line, energetic guitars, solid drumming, and outstanding vocals from Robin Wilson. Rolling on all cylinders, they deliver a great introduction that only continues with the ensuing bluesy, mellow “I Don’t Want to Lose You Now.” “I’m Ready” is another song that showcases the band’s newfound sense of life, despite the somewhat repetitive chorus and lazy lyrics. “Dead or Alive on the 405” has a borderline ska feel to it, with brass horns playing in the background throughout the bouncy verses and carefree chorus that gleefully exclaims the title of the song over and over again. It may not be completely unlike anything the Gin Blossoms have done before, but it is certainly far removed from what you would expect based on their more recent material.
The latter half of the album maintains Chocolate Cake
’s positive energy, but falters in terms of overall quality. Many of the songs lack memorable attributes, and they don’t bring a great deal of intersting lyrics to the table, either. The first half of the album has a sense of exuberance within the band’s chemistry and instrumental work (lyrically, they are still the same depressing Gin Blossoms more often than not). However, the majority of the songs over the second half of the album just seem to happen to you
, without making much of a positive or negative impact. “If You’ll Be Mine” is a fine showcasing of Wilson’s improved vocals, but it drags on and feels contrived. “Go Cry Baby” and “Goin’ to California” have little replay value, and considering the placement of the latter as the album’s closing track, this causes No Chocolate Cake
to end on somewhat of a dull note. To put it simply, the Gin Blossoms misfired with a lot of the album’s later songs which prevents it from reaching the phenomenal potential established by the first four-or-so tracks. Still, one has to be at least moderately impressed with band’s resurgence, even if it comes in the form of a poorly balanced track listing.
For all of its gimmicks, No Chocolate Cake
still manages to avoid sounding dry or distasteful. It may have too much filler for its own good (especially during the second half of the album), and they aren’t completely back yet, but the Gin Blossoms seem to show a gift for taking generic ideas and making them sound fresh. They did it over the course of their most successful albums, with a knack for finding just the right
hook, or a pop chorus that fits perfectly. In this case, you can cite the band’s intangibles…their newfound sense of youth, their rebuilt relationships, whatever it may be…something about the Gin Blossoms has changed, and it is for the best indeed.