Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Album Review: Gin Blossoms, “No Chocolate Cake”

wonder how long it took them to find a woman without lovehandles at the Tempe, Arizona municipal court Robin Wilson sits down with a reporter from the Arizona Republic to promote his new album. He’s tired of people asking you if the Gin Blossoms broke up, he says – sure, it’s been 17 years since “Hey, Jealousy” burned up the Billboard, and yeah, his last significant album dropped in 1996, but it’s not like the band is dead, gone, culturally irrelevant.

No Chocolate Cake will prove that, he says. It’s the band’s best stuff since ’93. It’s going to resurrect the Gin Blossoms like “Soul Sister” resurrected Train, he hopes out loud. It’s going to make Hootie & The Blowfish open for him.

“I’m willing to do whatever it takes,” he says, “to get back to that table.”

Be that as it may, it’s not happening with No Chocolate Cake. The best he can wish for is speedy banishment to the wastelands of Adult Contemporary radio.

Do I sound a little bitter? It’s only because I felt my entire adolescence eviscerated over the course of Chocolate’s 11 tracks. New Miserable Experience meant a lot to me. I (unwisely) adopted as a credo the drunken, unkillable romanticism of lines like “Do you think it’d be alright / if I just stay here tonight / see, I’m in no shape for driving / anyway, I’ve got no place to go.” I was 14, so there was no actual drinking involved; but someday, I thought, it would be like that (I was all too right, but that’s another story altogether).

All the songs on New sounded the same, and they were the better for it. The drums seemed half beat behind the bass, which was half a beat ahead of the guitar, which was ragged and brash, big, loud and stupid-drunk, the perfect accompaniment for Wilson’s sad-sack warble.

The sound was all-too authentic. Guitarist Doug Hopkins could churn out hooks, but Wilson said he was an unmanageable wreck, too drunk to stand up in the studio. The band fired him before New was released. When his songs catapulted the Gin Blossoms into stardom, Hopkins bought a .38 revolver and shot himself in the head.

Follow-up album Congratulations, I’m Sorry seemed dim in comparison to New, but a hopeful soul might chalk that up to sophomore slump. But then the band went dark for 10 years, emerging in 2006 with Major Lodge Victory.

I haven’t listened to Major Lodge, and after listening through Chocolate four times, I never will. I want nothing to do with the latter-day Gin Blossoms, if it’s even fair to call them that.

Opening track “Don’t Change For Me” sent me to Wikipedia to see if Wilson was still fronting the band. The roguish desperation is gone, replaced with something Wilson doubtlessly thought would play well with the mid-thirties crowd. The track idiotically marches to a predictable conclusion. Any Gin Blossoms fan should seize this moment to send the CD spinning out the window.

Sadly, they would miss one of the album’s two decent tracks, “I Don’t Want to Lose You Now.” It’s a necessary sacrifice. It’ll remind fans of languorous numbers like “As Long As It Matters” and “Until I Hear It From You,” even if it doesn’t have a chance of measuring up.

Chocolate hits its low point early with “Miss Disarray,” which sees the Gin Blossoms doing their best Fray, their best Train, their best whatever-will-get-Wilson-back-at-that-table. Sure, they’ll sound like The Fray. Will your station up them on the AC playlist? Where does Wilson sign?

Seriously: “Miss Disarray” song is a sad, slimy bid for mainstream attention. The oldest chord progressions, the most marketable tropes are all trotted out like prize ponies at some backwater county fair. This isn’t the only time they’ll try to sound like someone else: on “Dead or Alive on the 405,” they do their best – no shit – Fountains of Wayne. By this point, you’ll be spiteful and depressed enough to laugh out loud.

Thusly does Chocolate plod along, trying nothing new while managing to avoid everything old that made them good. I kept waiting for my inner 14-year-old to bolt upright in recognition, but it never happened. II thought it might have on “Go CryBaby;” then I realized it reminded me of The Wallflowers’ “Laughing Out Loud,” a song I actually like.

“Go CryBaby,” by the way, is decent track 2/2. Shift your expectations accordingly.

In the Republic interview, before he yearns out loud for The Table, Wilson talks about being jealous about 90s soul-pop act Hootie & The Blowfish. Seeing their wardrobe cases backstage made Wilson jealous, he says. Not that he wants a case full of clothes, he says – he just wants to “operate at that level.”

Maybe “Miss Disarray” will earn him a couple of royalty nickels – I can’t fault the man for wanting to make a buck. But I have to thank him for leveling the perfect judgment on No Chocolate Cake – it’s sounds exactly like a band aspiring to be Hootie & The Blowfish.

Disclaimer: This horror show was courtesy of Universal Music Distribution, which was brave enough to send me a review copy. I didn’t have to pay for No Chocolate Cake. Honestly? Neither should you.