BRAND NEW: DAISY (2009)
1) Vices; 2) Bed; 3) At The Bottom; 4) Gasoline; 5) You Stole; 6) Be Gone; 7) Sink; 8) Bought A Bride; 9) Daisy; 10) In A Jar; 11) Noro.
Eight years into their recording career, it is difficult to expect that a band like Brand New — who, by this time, should really start thinking about a name change — would be able to properly surprise their audiences. Most of the critics who agreed to discuss Daisy kinda sorta agreed that it was a «serious» effort, and that the band decided to explore darker and subtler topics, and that evil word «maturity» also made more than a single appearance, but you could also kinda sorta sense from the reviews that nobody was really stunned by this maturity. Because it is not as if Lacey or Accardi mastered any new skills here, or acquired any specific insight. They are still willing to experiment and look for new ways to express their irrational dissatisfaction with whatever comes their way — that much is obvious. But they're still not geniuses. And they still have solid potential to annoy and irritate, rather than amaze and hypnotize.
Take the lead (and only) single, ʽAt The Bottomʼ. The word «bottom», unless you use it in a sexual sense (but then you use different prepositions), usually suggests the idea of desperation, being at the end of one's rope. How does the music agree with it? It never really gets more desperate than the somber bluesy electric guitar introduction — then the verse melody is really just this one nicely bent chord, which then explodes into a nice mess of slide guitar on the loud chorus, but how «bottom» is that? And how convincing are those vocals, trying once again to convey an aura of suffering and frustration — but failing, as far as I'm concerned, because the music is limp and the lyrics are just too twisted for their own good? "There's a lake / And at the bottom you will find my friends / They don't swim cause they're all dead / We never are what we intend or invent" — look, this is frickin' embarrassing, I'm just too old to pay serious attention to this shit. Where's old Jim Morrison when you really need him? At least he laid his pretentiousness right on the line, not trying to pseudo-invent his own philosophical system from hastily scrapped together pieces of existentialist broodings. Once Lacey writes something as cool as "I woke up this morning and I got myself a beer / The future's uncertain and the end is always near", please wake me up.
And it's not as if it's a bad song, really — I like the way how the guitar melody progresses from intro to verse to chorus, and I do find the chorus somewhat catchy, and I like that they do not resort to all-out screaming. The only thing I don't like, in fact, is that there are no traces of a guitar solo — something that could really help out here, but, well, you know, wishing for a guitar solo on an indie rock song is like wishing for a sex scene in a Disney movie. So, all in all, I should be kept happy here, and happily recommend the song to everybody. And yet — it just feels so inadequate to the task. All these references to lake bottoms, darkness, little lies, drowning in floods, "drugs on a silver plate", they just feel pulled out of one's ass, set to feeble musical backing, and then packaged as Great Human Tragedy. And it doesn't exactly feel «fake» — like before, it feels confused. They're trying to get it out, but they don't know how.
Now let us take the second longest song on the album: ʽYou Stoleʼ, which, at six minutes running time, forms the central pillar of Daisy. It takes almost three minutes to build up to the (first) climax — and the guys should be congratulated for avoiding the usual trap, as all the lyrics are delivered in a hushed, mourning tone, whereas the loud climax is purely instrumental (but even there they play a shrill double-tracked guitar riff rather than a solo!). But that long build-up period — during most of that, they sound like a handicapped tribute band to British Sea Power, mimicking their love for depth, echoes, hush-hush, and mystery, but only possessing like half of that band's skill for instrumental overlays that actually provide the depth. Again, there is a semi-successful attempt at achieving something — but no bullseye.
Now let us go to something really pretentious and cryptic. ʽIn A Jarʼ has a guitar riff that sounds like it were, in fact, played from within a jar, with the lid screwed on so tightly it can barely let through a microphone cord. It also has a tricky time signature, with a slightly offbeat rhythm that confuses the senses. Then there are the words: "We live in a jar and think the lid's the sky" (what is this, a rerun of The Truman Show?), "you're hoping for a savior on your cross outside" (outside the jar? is it you or the savior that is outside? I'm sort of confused with these pronouns here), "stars are just a million little fireflies" (nice simile, but hardly original), "the sun is just a hole, it's the light outside" (have they been reading too much Einstein?). Then, unfortunately, there's some screaming in the chorus, but you also get the major decoding clue: "No one saves me cause I'm sinking slowly!". Then you're supposed to go mad with desperation and really feel for the guy, and for the whole universe, because your eyes have just been opened to the meaninglessness and pointlessness of it all.
Okay, honestly, I know that silly sarcasm can be used as a weapon against anything and anybody, so you are perfectly entitled to seeing this as a series of cheap shots. What is expensive, though, is the actual feelings I get when listening to this stuff — and they are almost surprisingly neutral. Once again, Brand New just... deliver. Deliver a piece of product that makes me respect them for their efforts, but does not make me love them for the success of these efforts. As long as Lacey does not scream (and, unfortunately, he does that quite a bit on many of the other songs), Daisy is perfectly listenable. It is even meaningful — it sweats and struggles a lot to intellectualize its emotions and emotionalize its intellect. But it just feels way too much like the presupposition is "We suffer" and the rest is a desperate search for the answer to the question "Why exactly is it that we are suffering?", when it actually should feel the other way around — "something is not right", and then "we suffer because something is not right". And this is why, no matter how much I try, I just cannot relate to this album and its alleged complexity.
I guess I will just finish this with another bloody comparison: every time I hear Lacey proclaim that "I'm on my way to hell" in the closing number, I close my eyes and just hum the chorus to AC/DC's ʽHighway To Hellʼ, and think that, well, whaddaya know, so many people on their way to hell, and each of them has his own attitude about that, and even if in my own life I would probably be closer to Lacey's personality than to Bon Scott's, in this particular case I'd rather relate to Bon's attitude than Lacey's. Take my word for it — if you're really on your way to hell, don't bother about puffing and huffing and aggrandizing yourself about it. In the end, that's just vanity, and dressing it up in superficial complexity and cryptic verbalizing won't make it into something else — certainly not into genuine, convincing, empathetic suffering.