Review Summary: Blake Sennett in the pursuit of the perfect pop song, consequences be damned.
It used to be that ignoring Blake Sennett’s integral role in Rilo Kiley was a grievous mistake. His buttery wisp of a tenor on songs like “Ripchord” and “Three Hopeful Thoughts” provided a nice counterpoint to Jenny Lewis’ West Coast twang, while his 2004 solo album Me First
under the Elected moniker made it quite obvious that the songwriting team in Rilo Kiley wasn’t just Lewis and three faceless dudes. Me First
was an album arguably better than anything Rilo Kiley have released, a strange yet appropriate amalgam of pedal steel alt-country and Postal Service-esque electronica, all held together by the ghost of Elliott Smith and Sennett’s incisive lyrics. Yet just as Rilo Kiley leaned towards a more vapid sound on Under the Blacklight
, Sennett careened more and more towards the pursuit of the perfect pop song, first in shades of country on 2006’s Sun, Sun, Sun
and now with Bury Me In My Rings
, a fitting title indeed if the rings in question are made of fool’s gold.
Bury Me In My Rings
is an album begging to be ignored. Sennett’s strengths are still well evident, from his hushed, anguished tenor to a knack for songwriting that eclipses most indie artists nowadays. If anything, his talents have improved; few artists can have a delicate finger-picked ballad like “Jailbird” sandwiched between the funky ‘70s AM stomp of “Look At Me Now” and the arena sing-a-long in “Go For The Throat.” Unfortunately, his penchant for sickly sweet arrangements and lyrics as diary-centric as they pretend to be love weary has only increased. “Born To Love You” is the perfect introduction to Bury Me In My Rings
, a flawless slice of summery pop rock, complete with shimmering keys and a soothing chord progression that calls to mind the pop classicists . . . only to be sabotaged by a line like “I was born to love you / and I’ll love you / even if you’re with someone new.” Aw, isn’t that just the cutest thing?
One could make the case that this is all part of the package, the simplistic lyrics fitting in nicely alongside Sennett’s retro arrangements and glossy West Coast sunshine rock vibe. But then there’s a song like “Who Are You,” where Sennett marries melancholy strings to haunting atmospherics and faintly creepy lyrics, and it’s easy to see that the Sennett of Me First
isn’t all that far off. Instead, the focus is clearly on barnstorming numbers like the tears-in-your-beer-and-violins surge of “Have You Been Cheated” and the everything-and-the-kitchen-sink mess of “This Will Be Worth It,” a song that deserves more hyphenated descriptors than I care to use.
But damn, can the man still write a tune. Bury Me In My Rings
is more to be criticized for what it could be than for what it actually does: as far as crafting hooks and envisioning an album that nearly replicates the best of old school California cool, Sennett is still one of the best around, as anything from “Born To Love You” to the introspective, regret-tinged shuffle closer “See The Light” clearly proves. When Sennett falters on a song, it’s more from an ill-advised genre detours like the inoffensive ‘80s dance number “Babyface” than the man’s own talent. “Babyface” doesn’t really suck, per se, but in the context of the rest of Bury Me In My Rings
, it’s just a little too cheesy, too out of place. It’s the worst of Sennett’s tendencies all plopped in one poorly chosen single, embarrassing lyrics further marred by a beat that sounds like it should be shot back in a time machine to a roller-skating rink circa 1982 and never heard from again. Yet if that’s what Sennett is going for, it sounds absolutely perfect, and that is exactly what is at the heart of Bury Me In My Ring’s
problem: Sennett’s overwhelming perfectionism, his pursuit for the ideal pop song, is just as likely to submerge him in soft rock clichés and painfully obtuse lyricism as it is likely to lead him to an aces country-rock tune that sounds like the best song Fleetwood Mac never made. It’s an interesting paradox and one that Sennett seems unlikely to solve on his current path, but even if he never does, there will always be some choice tunes to blare out on the summer highways, and the world can always use more of those.