Friday, May 1, 2009

Tinted Windows -- Tinted Windows

Tinted Windows -- Tinted Windows (S-Curve)

Ear candy. Junk food. Disposable. Bun E. Carlos is so dreamy. Taylor Hanson is so dreamy. These are at least four, if not five, common reactions to the debut album of power pop supergroup Tinted Windows.

Some of you might be asking, “Supergroup?” Well, Hanson was a big band for a while and still has a fervent audience. And Cheap Trick and Smashing Pumpkins (James Iha) both held the title of Biggest Band in the World at one time or the other. Maybe Fountains Of Wayne (Adam Schlesinger) only had one top 40 hit, but not many bands have had the pedigree of the Windows.

Unfortunately, the sum is less than the parts. It’s not that the record doesn’t sound good. Au contraire -- this is sparkling power pop with a great vocalist singing his ass off. Where this falls short is in the songwriting department. Schlesinger is a master craftsman, but many of these songs only offer craft. This is the musical equivalent of a big slugging home run hitter settling for singles up the middle.

Repeat plays reveal some really nice songs. “Can’t Get a Read On You” is a galloping rocker, with Hanson singing urgently over the brisk backing track which is punctuated by Iha’s staccato lead guitar lines. This is a breathless rush of a tune.

Iha’s sole songwriting credit is the most stylized song on the album, the bubblegummy “Cha Cha”. This song is the missing midpoint between T. Rex and Tommy Roe, with Hanson taking the right approach to this dopey yet fun tune -- utter sincerity. And just when you think there should be handclaps, the handclaps kick in.

There’s a ‘70s pop vibe, with added muscle, on “Without Love”. This is one song where Bun E. Carlos is able to embellish with his trademark drumming style. Iha and Schlesinger add some enthusiastic backing vocals and Iha rips off a nice little solo.

And there is one good power ballad, "Dead Serious", which sounds like something out of the Cheap Trick or E’Nuff Z’Nuff songbook, with a more soulful and coltish lead singer. This song may have the strongest chorus on the record, with a great melody and excellent lead guitar accompaniment by Iha.

One thing that hurts this record is how banal the lyrics are. I think Schlesinger was shooting for archetypical powerpop but ended up with generic words. Material Issue’s Jim Ellison was particularly good at dressing up classic themes with little tweaks that gave them personality and a bit of substance. But one of the reasons the songs here don’t have as much staying power as they could is because they don’t seem to be about anything in particular, certainly nothing worth singing along to.

Even worse, someone decided to print the lyrics. This is almost as great a waste of paper as the entire Ann Coulter ouvre.

As with all supergroups, who knows if this is a one off. I would like them to take another crack at it, as this record makes me wonder how great Tinted Windows could be if the boys could just take it up another level or two.


Laura said...

The CD is very catchy, with ear-worms galore. Several interviews I came across with Schlesinger and Iha were interesting since they deliberately wrote fairly banal lyrics and wanted the listener to get hooked on the music. Though the lyrics aren't going to raise the consciousness of the planet, they do appeal to my 8 and 10 yr old daughters. Their favorite song thus far is "Kind of A Girl."

MmmJuila said...

I understand that you find the lyrics on the record quite banal, but I have actually read/heard numerous interviews in which Schlesinger and Hanson both state that the lyrics are intentionally shallow. The idea was not to create a deep set of songs that all meant something; instead, they tried their hardest *not* to make songs that carried meaning. I guess "poor" lyrics are reason enough to think less of the album, but if you go into it knowing that they weren't hoping for grand metaphors and meaning, it is a really entertaining album.

Mike Bennett said...

As I note in my review, I recognize they were going for basic themes. I don't think any pop record has to make statements. But, as I noted with my example of Material Issue's Jim Ellison, there's a way to do so without being bland. Even simple words can enhance the catchiness of a song, and hear the words blend in rather than enhance.