Once upon a time, in the late 80s, a group of college kids started a punk rock band. They made refreshing, energized punk rock and began to grow a sizable fanbase. The band managed to fly under the radar while a flurry of early-90s punk bands started to find commercial success. For five years they maintained their street-cred and were champions of their indie scene. Then a major label came calling with a fat check and the band locked into a multi-album deal. Their major label debut was watered down and bland and in true punk rock fashion, after a few final shows, the band broke up.
Two years later, the singer-songwriter reappears on an independent label, with a new band composed of other veterans of the early-90s indie-punk scene. Their debut album wowed critics and took the negative expectations of former fans and turned them on their heads. The album became one of the landmarks for a burgeoning scene of pop-influenced, emotional post-punk (see "third-wave 'emo'"). Two years later, they suffered from the age-old "sophomore slump" and released a more-than-disappointing second effort. Not only was this the worse of the bands two albums, but it was the worst of the singer-songwriter's career.
This is the story of former Jawbreaker/current Jets to Brazil frontman Blake Schwarzenbach. Now, in 2002, he faces the ultimate stage in his career - The Comeback Record. Can our hero overcome the odds and reclaim some indie-rock relevance?
I think it should be said right now that "Perfecting Loneliness" is better than "Four-Cornered Night." So, if this album succeeds at anything, at least it's better than the last one. Not Schwarzenbach's most difficult task, but he has to get points for something. That said, "Perfecting Loneliness" is a letdown. Not so much because I had positive expectations going in (which I didn't) but because the album builds up hope early on, only to shatter it in the end.
Opening the album is "The Frequency," a non-offensive, catchy pop-rock tune. Simple melodies and tight instrumentation combine to make one of the album's obvious standout tracks. Despite the fact that it clocks in at over six minutes (only three tracks fall below the five-minute mark), it is a great opening song and captured my interest all the way into the second track. "You're the One I Want" follows nicely in a similar poppy sing-along way. The production is good. There is enough air left around the instruments for them to breathe and stretch out. The vocals sound slightly gritty and removed and blend well with the instruments. Just try to ignore the out-of-place synth pad about halfway through. "Cat Heaven" is the album's best track. This means that there are nine more songs of a lower caliber left. The piano-based song boasts the best orchestration on the record. It starts off subdued with laid-back vocals over a pleasant piano line before climbing into a brief chorus. This is followed by a "November Rain"-esque electric guitar vs. piano bridge section featuring the aforementioned synth pads, this time used effectively. This song is mature, polished, and fluid.
The title track, however, sets the stage for the rest of this unfortunate album. The song begins with a distorted guitar line over a driving rhythm and continues in a similar manner for the next two and a half minutes, gradually introducing more sounds such as a particularly well placed synth part. At the halfway point the song breaks into a mellow, spacey bridge which segues into a two-minute instrumental ending complete with utterly cliched ambient samples of space communication. Houston, we have a problem. Most albums have a few filler tracks. See, the idea is to pad the space between the really good songs so you can fill out a full length, balancing the good with the not so good. Jets to Brazil, for some crazy reason, saw fit to pad their first four songs with eight filler tracks. This is where the song lengths get irritating. Instead of ending songs, they decide its best to tack on three minutes of chorus refrains to each. Songs start to blend, I lose total interest and attempt to multi-task, and I wake up with my head on the keyboard. The review is now five pages of random characters.
I need something to keep me occupied so I start focusing in on the lyrics. "Blue moonlight / I can't cry right / But I miss you tonight" (from "Further North"). For a split second, I thought when my head hit the keyboard it somehow loaded up a Dashboard Confessional song. Schwarzenbach has certainly lost some of his lyrical prowess. This of course doesn't even come close to the pain I felt for our hero when the album closer "Rocket Boy" began playing. The nine and a half minute(!) album closer is a piano/acoustic guitar song chock full of awful production, annoying keyboard noises, and some terrible lyrics. The song begins with these unfortunate lines: "Headlights / And red eyes / I want to be / between your thighs."
What does the future hold for Jets to Brazil and Mr. Schwarzenbach? Will he attempt another record with this band or will they move on to greener pastures? He is perhaps unsure himself, as the closer asks, "Think you're getting better / But you're never quite sure / Say it's all ahead of you / How far can you see?" I doubt it's very far. The End.