Review Summary: The glory days of a band that deserved so much more.
Every now and then, a band comes up that you can see no reasonable explanation for why they weren't huge; Harvey Danger definitely falls into this category of 'shoulda been's'. Known mostly for that one song you know you've heard somewhere (in the event of it not springing to mind, that song is Flagpole Sitta), it seemed that they had everything going for them - an energetic, indie rock feel to their primarily guitar driven songs, with remarkably intelligent lyrics and a vast catalogue of one liners that made their music fun without sacrificing too much in the way of emotional depth. Their second album, King James Version, was the best example of this slightly erudite likeability, yet its lack of commercial impact led to Harvey Danger's hiatus in 2000 that prompted a slight stylistic change upon their return with Little By Little.
From the word go, King James Version explodes with the boisterous 'Meetings With Remarkable Men'. A stomping drumbeat and an infectious guitar line provides the initial shot-in-the-arm while vocalist Sean Nelson gives his signature performance - a slightly raucous yet fundamentally clean-cut style that is as sincere as it is playful, and a vital part of the album's character. With a few notable exceptions (which are touched upon shortly), this formula is what is carried across most of the running length yet is performed in such a way that, through an expert balancing act of volatility and self-restraint, ensures it feels fresh and different across all 12 tracks.
As was the case throughout their discography, the lyrical content of King James Version is one of the strongest and also most endearing aspects of the album. For example, 'You Miss The Point Completely I Get The Point Exactly' features possibly 5 lines that aren't worth quoting, and includes such gems as 'Culture-barren trainwreck and it’s hard to look away / But I’m yawning like a kid in a carpet store'. Alongside the literary references peppered throughout and their somewhat Weezer-like appearance, this helped to maintain its vaguely geeky, misfit aesthetic that provided a counter to the more party-rock style favoured by many of their contemporaries.
As alluded to previously however, the album isn't all rollicking headboppers and anecdotal amusement. Piano-and-strings based 'Pike St./Park Slope' (perhaps made more famous by the Bomb The Music Industry! cover) is a beautiful yet bitter piece about the American dream and 'making it', and closer 'The Same As Being In Love' is a slow-burning, slightly grungy number that succeeds, along with its predecessor, in ending the album on a decidedly angrier, spiteful tone than its first few tracks may have the listener believe.
The thought that this, of all albums, failed to make Harvey Danger into more of a household name is one that carries a great sense of disappointment. As enjoyable as Little By Little turned out to be, it lacked much of the youthful energy and angst that King James Version carried, and one wonders that had this managed to spawn a hit single, then maybe this review would have been one celebrating the start of a bold new facet of indie rock, instead of lamenting what could've (and possibly should've) been. Regardless, Harvey Danger's sophomore effort is one that goes for the jugular, before sitting back and allowing a more thoughtful approach to settle in, and is one of the finest examples of turn-of-the-century indie rock going.