Sheridan Square / Artemis Records, 2000
REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 03/14/2001
It really must cheeze off an artist to read a review and find themselves being compared to a merger of two or more bands. All they're trying to do is to create music in the manner they know, and - wham! - there's someone like me ready to lump them into some other category.
So, forgive me, Josh Joplin Group, for what I'm about to do. But the more I listened to Useful Music, the quintet's third effort, the more I pictured Counting Crows and Michael Stipe from R.E.M. And while this band shows they have room to grow musically, there are many signs of promise. I just wish that more of them had manifested themselves on this disc.
If you've heard "Camera One," the first single from this album, and you didn't know who was performing the track, it would not be unusual for you to think that Joplin was really Adam Duritz. The vocal patterns sometimes do match the two singers. But Joplin shows through most of Useful Music that his range is more expansive - which works to his benefit.
Musically, Josh Joplin Group walks a fine line between solid album-oriented rock and the occasional nod to alternative (hence the R.E.M. comparison). Tracks like "Matter," "Who's Afraid Of Thomas Wolfe?" and "Here I Am" all show off a wonderful balance of the two sides, while others like "Trailways" lean a little more towards the alternative side without losing too much in the pop quirkiness category.
Where Useful Music breaks down is in the band's inability to maintain a consistent level of excellence throughout the album. While the bulk of this disc is quite enjoyable, tracks near the end, such as "Superstar," "Dutch Wonderland" and "Human" don't sparkle with nearly the same electricity as the earlier numbers. It's a bit of a letdown, and if this were a debut effort, I'd be willing to cut them some slack.
Joplin occasionally seems like he wants to cover as many bases as possible musically - a trait which could eventually lead to him spreading his talents out too thin. Case in point: the two different versions of "I've Changed". In one sense, it feels like Joplin wants to reaffirm his status as a rocker by throwing on an edgier version to counter-act the soft, melodic track at the album's midway point. Fact is, the "original" version works fine, and Joplin didn't need to add anything more to it. By including a second take, it only serves to weaken the power of the first and to show the listener why it was fine the way they first heard it.
Useful Music is a semi-decent effort, and if the more powerful moments of this disc are a suggestion of things to come from Josh Joplin Group, it's a safe bet they'll be a fixture on the charts for some time to come. For now, this disc is a decent, if imperfect, effort.
2001 Christopher Thelen and "The Daily Vault". All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Sheridan Square / Artemis Records, and is used for informational purposes only.