Gin Blossoms, Major Lodge Victory
For fans of: Goo Goo Dolls, Paul Westerberg
Signing to A&M Records in 1990, the Arizona-based Gin Blossoms released an impressive EP of college-rock anthems, Up and Crumbling, before beginning work on their full-length debut, New Miserable Experience. It was during sessions for the album that the band was forced to fire the increasingly alcoholic and erratic Doug Hopkins, the group’s cofounder and chief songwriter. Ironically, on the strength of a pair of Hopkins-penned singles (“Hey Jealousy” and “Found Out about You”), the album made a slow but deliberate march up the charts, eventually selling several million copies — a remarkable success that was clouded when Hopkins took his own life in late 1993. Ultimately weighed down by their troubled past, the ever-fractious group called it quits in 1997, following the release of their second album, Congratulations, I’m Sorry. The Blossoms reunited for a series of shows in 2000, and finally returned to the studio for the first time in over a decade last year. Reteaming with longtime producer John Hampton, the new disc proves something of a mixed bag. Cuts like the first single, “Learning the Hard Way,” and the cloying falsetto number “Someday Soon” lack the desperate edge and potent melancholy that lurked beneath the sunny pop surface of the group’s best material. Yet the album does boast moments of true melodic finery, including the brooding ballad “Jet Black Sunrise,” the wistful rhapsody of “Long Time Gone,” and the new-wave nugget “Heart Shaped Locket.” In all, it’s a solid, if unspectacular, comeback.
Ben Kweller, Ben Kweller
For fans of: Tom Petty, early Bruce Springsteen
Even at the tender age of 25, it seems as though Ben Kweller has been kicking around the music business for a generation or more. Kweller first made a name in the late ’90s as the prepubescent front man for cheeky Dallas-based Nirvana-soundalike Radish. Despite major label backing, the band failed to click commercially, and Kweller moved to NYC, finding more success as a solo act, beginning with his 2002 debut Sha Sha and continuing with 2004’s On My Way. Produced by noted Brit Gil Norton (Pixies, Foo Fighters), Kweller’s third and latest effort finds him working in one-man-band mode, playing and singing every note on the album. Continuing the more musically mature explorations found on his sophomore LP, he further expands his style on the new disc with a batch of imagistic narratives and keyboard-driven compositions. While Kweller’s songs still largely hew to a familiar combination of lonely-guy lyrics and perfectly crated pop structures synthesizing longtime influences like Weezer and Tom Petty, there are new elements sneaking into the mix. Certainly, you can hear snatches of Springsteen in the chiming bells and piano glissandos of the escape anthem “Run,” or in the moaning harp underscoring the lovelorn rebellion of “Thirteen.” Elsewhere, he deftly incorporates touches of country on the pleading “Red Eye,” though he’s less successful working terse punk-funk territory on the album-closing “This Is War.” Still, it’s yet another engaging platter that charts Kweller’s steady artistic progression.