Review Summary: Semisonic gets it on with an unexpected, but still brilliant, third album.
Semisonic will always be known as the band who made "Closing Time". The 1998 smash hit has become a staple at piano and karaoke bars all around the world, and propelled a once struggling 90s alt-rock band to semi-stardom. The album that spawned "Closing Time", Feeling Strangely Fine
, also put out two singles that are still remembered by Semisonic's fanbase: "Secret Smile" and "Singing in My Sleep". Three years later, Semisonic released All About Chemistry
in 2001, which caused the demise of a band that had been semi-famous.
Although All About Chemistry
is unmistakably a Semisonic album, many things are different. If you're looking for Feeling Strangely Fine, Pt. 2
, don't get this album. Although Dan Wilson's vocals are still memorable, and catchy hooks are still present, Semisonic's sound has changed. [i]All About Chemistry[i], unlike Feeling Strangely Fine
, has more synth and electronic elements. Whereas Feeling Strangely Fine
was more piano-driven, this album features more guitar work.
Also, the lyrics and subject matter have changed a bit. As an adult contemporary band, Semisonic still sing songs about heartbreak, love and relationships, but this album portrays a different side of love, specifically the sexual side, with songs about sexual experiences, masturbation and the first time. "Chemistry" shows the best of both worlds, as it also discusses the virginal days ("So for a while I conducted experiments / And I was amazed by the things I learned"), while also talking about doing it for the first time with a new person ("And we found out that the two things we put together had a bad tendency to explode"). Other songs like "Bed" (which is about sleeping with new people) and "Get a Grip" (a pro-masturbation anthem) follow the trend in sexually-tinged adult contemporary songs on the album.
Many songs on All About Chemistry
still do have catchy hooks and enjoyable lyrics, even if their sound is different. The aforementioned "Chemistry" opens the album on a great note, with a chorus that will get stuck in your head for days. Other highlights include "One True Love", which features Carly Simon, whose vocals really stick out in contrast to Dan Wilson’s, “She’s Got My Number”, which contains a catchy bass riff along with excellent drumming by Jacob Slichter, and “I Wish”, Wilson’s best vocal performance on the album. "I Wish" just builds up towards the end, culminating in an excellent last chorus.
Nevertheless, Semisonic’s third album still has its flaws. The album does get a little repetitive, as many of the songs sound alike and are mostly about the same topic: love, sex and relationships. Also, there are some boring and filler tracks that accomplish nothing and just drag the album down. “Sunshine and Chocolate” features a weird blooping synth beat in the background, while Wilson’s sexual lyrics go a little bit too overboard. “El Matador” is a boring closer that goes on for five minutes, ending the album on a forgettable note.
All About Chemistry
is an album that really came out of left field. After Feeling Strangely Fine
made Semisonic popular, one would expect their next album to be a complete carbon copy of it. Although it was a risky move, it was for the better. Although there are no classics like “Closing Time” or “Singing in My Sleep” on this album, there are still some great songs from a great band that should have had more mainstream success.