Sophomore effort fails to recapture magic for Jets
By JOE REISING
Scene Music Editor
They say all good things must come to an end, and for fans of the Blake Schwarzenbach led punk group, Jawbreaker, the end to Schwarzenbach's intelligent punk music appeared to occur in 1996 when the group disbanded. However, the end proved just to be a new beginning for Scwarzenbach.
Taking their name from a movie poster seen in the background of the film "Breakfast at Tiffany's," Schwarzenbach, along with former Texas is the Reason drummer Chris Daly and Jeremy Chatelain, the bassist and singer for Handsome, formed a new band, Jets to Brazil. Leaving a good portion of the punk influences behind, the group released the brilliant Orange Rhyming Dictionary in 1998.
While the familiar themes of troubled relationships and the stifling effects of the modern world were still present, along with power chord buoyed choruses, the album soared well above the confines of traditional punk music. Each song was a miniature movie, accompanied by some very catchy music that thrust itself on the imagination and doesn't fade away until the lyrics and scenery were permanently embedded into the listener's head.
Orange Rhyming Dictionary combined elements of both pop and punk into music that was much greater than the sum of its parts.
So it was with great anticipation that fans awaited the band's follow-up album. But to the surprise and even disappointment of many, Four Cornered Night has even less to do with Orange Rhyming Dictionary than Jets to Brazil had to with the Jawbreaker's strictly punk formulas. Barely noticeable, or in some songs, entirely missing, are the crisp distorted power chord, driven choruses and the memorable imagery of Orange Rhyming Dictionary.
In their place are decidedly non-punk piano and cello sounds, and a much more traditional song format. The addition of guitarist Brian Maryansky freed up Schwarzenbach, allowing for such a concentration on piano. Unfortunately Schwarzenbach was never taught piano, as he plainly admits in the last song. While in no way detrimental, the piano does little besides making the songs sound a little more like the Beatles or Billy Joel.
Maryansky also proves an unnecessary addition on guitar. On Orange Rhyming Dictionary, Schwarzenbach had to perform double duty as lead singer and guitarist. Consequently, many songs resulted in a rather simple guitar line while Schwarzenbach was singing and then a more intense guitar between verses. The resulting effect was one of great space, with a wide sampling of guitar effects that added as much to the songs' imagery as Schwarzenbach's lyrics. Maryansky's guitar seems like it could have been done just as well by any studio guitarist hack, adding little flourishes where none are needed, and in general, resonating far too much like a guitarist from two or three decades ago, long past his time.
However, for all the changes made for the new album, there are still a few signs of the old Jets to Brazil — particularly in Schwarzenbach's lyrics. Rankling relationships and a disregard for an over medicated, impersonal modern world still provide material for such songs as "You're Having the Time of My Life" and "Your X-Rays Have Just Come Back From the Lab and We Think We Know What Your Problem Is." However, the lyrics are more obscure this time around, and instead of narrating a story or fueling the imagination, the lyrics are essentially just lyrics. Considering that Schwarzenbach may be one of the most creative singers in music today, this is not so much a reduction in meaning as a change of focus.
All departures from Orange Rhyming Dictionary aside, Four Cornered Night is still a very good album. Despite having a less original and imaginative sound than the previous album, Four Cornered Night still delivers some great songs. "Pale New Dawn" is perhaps the best example of where the band can go if it decides to stick with its new sound.
The song starts out with the familiar repetitive distorted power chords of the past, but at a little bit slower pace, and Schwarzenbach's singing on this track seems more melodic and varied than past efforts. "Midday Anonymous" is also a lot more melodic than anything on the past album, but is able to recapture some of the powerful and catchy choruses. "Little Light" is perhaps one of the best songs Jets to Brazil has made to date. The acoustic guitar, piano, drums and organ are all in the right balance in this song.
Unfortunately, for every "Little light" and "Pale New Dawn" on this album, there seems to be at least two "Empty Picture Frames," a song that feigns heavy promise, but never fully develops.
Despite the fact that Four Cornered Night does not live up to the expectations raised by Orange Rhyming Dictionary, it still leaves hope that Jets to Brazil will continue to grow musically.
Besides, its hard to stay disappointed at an album whose last track is entitled "All Things Good and Nice." Genuine and sentimental, the song also contains one of Schwarzenbach's most profound lyrics to date, "Some will say the truth is not so plain/ don't confuse your truth with your pain." And while Schwarzenbach's punk rock days may have finally reached an end, fans of intelligent, thoughtful music will be happy to know that Jets to Brazil are still flying high.
All Scene Stories for Tuesday, September 12, 2000