Review Summary: Nostalgic pop-rock from a skilled craftsman of great melodies.
'The Reluctant Graveyard' marks little-known singer-songwriter Jeremy Messersmith's graduation from the school of basic acoustic indie to the university of melodic, sophisticated acoustic pop - and as such is his strongest album to date. A dreamy-voiced, skinny-looking musician from Minnesota, it's hard to explain, on listening to the record, why Messersmith hasn't yet succeeded in breaking onto the big time. Perhaps it's because nostalgic guitar-pop is our of fashion at the moment; but despite this, all the elements required for a shot at wider success are present here. Cutting, insightful lyrics on love and religion, clever melodies, clean production, and quirky, whimsical moments all blend together to create a seamless whole, and an impressive third album.
Most striking about Messersmith is his ability to write an extremely simple yet meaningful acoustic song - a task so many singer-songwriters attempt, often with little success. Never becoming a singer-songwriter cliché, nor ever lapsing into boring songwriting, Messersmith deftly steers a path between these two extremes, wearing his influences clearly on his sleeve. 'A Girl, A Boy and A Graveyard' is just beautiful - a simple acoustic number with a poignant 5 note backing melody detailing the beginnings of a young relationship. But Messersmith isn't all about lovey-dovey heartfelt numbers - 'Organ Donor' is a scathing look at religious indoctrination, and 'Repo Man' deals with the sad self-confession of one of society's most hated members.
All through 'The Reluctant Graveyard' come themes of death, loss, and loneliness - but somehow (and I don't know how) it never crosses into the boundary into depression. Perhaps this is because, along with his other quirks, Messersmith puts often brutal, maudlin words to disarmingly cheerful, Beatles-esque tunes and rhythms. However, it's not all doom and gloom lyrically speaking - 'Violet' and 'Lazy Bones' are as uplifting and as poppy as this genre of music gets. It can't be denied that Messersmith has a gift for, as in his music, writing simple, unpretentious lyrics which draw the listener in, and reveal new insights. Rarely is such a successful combination of lyric and melody acheived to such a great extent.
'The Reluctant Graveyard' is a pop-rock album more than anything else, and perhaps could be criticised for showing its influences (Stones, Beatles, Elliott Smith, and even Radiohead on 'John the Determinist') too obviously. However, there is enough here to set Messersmith apart not just as a great interpreter of rock tradition, but also a gifted songwriter in his on right. His best-produced and most varied album to date, let's hope the music world hears more of this glorious pop-rock revivalism in the future.