Review Summary: Guster growing old.
Growing old kind of sucks. Although I’m only in my last year of college and thus fairly young in the scheme of things, everything’s already gone down hill – since my 21st birthday has passed me by, the only notable birthday event I have to look forward to is my 25th and a reduction in my car insurance rates, not to mention a decreased metabolism, more bills, and (hopefully but not really) a Monday-Friday job. Talk about an exciting landmark! My warped sense of my own rapidly accelerating age is already cropping up in my music tastes: I want everything to sound like my favorite albums and bands of all time, which I inevitably listened to in my latter high school years and whose follow-ups inevitably disappoint because nothing stacks up to that wide-eyed wonder of hearing something that changes everything. Take Guster, for instance, calmly making what amounts to the same pop-rock-with-an-unfair-ear-for-hooks since 1999’s classic Lost and Gone Forever
, with varying degrees of success. I’ve gotten older, and Guster’s fans have definitely gotten older – I recently attended a show where the majority of the audience was way past college and hovering around the black hole of their 30s – but Guster have pretty much stayed exactly the same, and it doesn’t seem to mean a damn thing. Maybe that’s why they’re one of the few bands from my high school days that have yet to truly disappoint me.
Now the critical part of me finds plenty to dislike with this, their sixth album. It’s absolutely nonthreatening – if I had to compare Easy Wonderful
to a living thing, it’d be a koala bear, cuddly and furry with a strict vegetarian diet. Drummer Brian Rosenworcel’s brilliant hand drumming, which defined the band’s early sound and still makes their live shows one of my favorites, has been, by and large, neutered to a standard sticks-and-pedals kit. Adam Gardner’s lovely baritone is now reserved strictly for backing vocals, and singer Ryan Miller shows an increasing love for saccharine lyrics and chintzy sentiments that would best be left in a Hallmark card. In other words, it’s the same gradual progression towards “dad-rock” that Ganging Up On The Sun
hinted at, but with one slight addendum: Guster is still churning out some of the best melodies of their career.
It’s why I know that Guster will always be the security blanket of my musical existence when they keep tossing out effortless gems like unreasonably catchy first single “Do You Love Me.” Hell, any band that can use song titles like that or “Bad Bad World” or (God help us) “This Is How It Feels To Have A Broken Heart” and make me immediately forgive them when that melody hits has my respect. Guster have been doing this a long time, and occasionally it shows, but I can’t think of another band who, song-for-song, keep coming up with choruses and hooks that stay in my head when other, more “challenging” albums gather dust until I have to write my end-of-year lists. There’s been better songs this year, but few more likely to have me singing along in my highest pitch than “That’s No Way To Heaven” and fewer still with the potential to kick around my skull for weeks like “Do You Want,” or “Architects and Engineers,” or virtually everything else here. There’s nothing more groundbreaking here than some well-placed banjo twang, and Easy Wonderful
hasn’t made me think or made me call up a friend late at night caught in some ten-minute-plus audio brilliance. This is just guitars, bass, drums, and harmonies, and it’s absolutely, relentlessly gorgeous. If Guster can grow old and still sound so damn cheerful, maybe everything won’t be so drab after all.