Congratulations I'm Sorry

Gin Blossoms

A & M Records, 1996

http://www.ginblossoms.net

REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 10/17/2002

Not that ambivalence ever asked to have poster children -- it really hasn't made up its mind yet, you see -- but if it had, the Gin Blossoms would have to be on the short list. From the brightly oxymoronic title of their second major-label album Congratulations I'm Sorrymy_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 , to the rich, bouncy guitar hooks they use to support their often-mournful lyrics, these guys seem determined to have it both ways. Nowhere is this more apparent than in this album's major-video-rotation track "Follow You Down," whose thoroughly infectious central hook lights up a song about co-dependent depression.

The results here and elsewhere in this 12-song-plus-intermission set, while sometimes incongruous, are consistently entertaining and well-executed. The lyrics can lean to self-pity at times, but offer subtle imagery and sparkling twists of phrase (e.g. "full sail in the gutter," "nothing like a bad decision says who you are" and the whole concept of a "Competition Smile"). It's also nice to see a band where everybody contributes to the songwriting.

There are big rewards waiting on the instrumental side, as well. The fat-and-juicy twin-lead guitars Jesse Valenzuela and Scott Johnson offer up front are supported by sharp ensemble playing, with instrumental flashes and fills from bassist Bill Leen and drummer Phillip Rhodes that complement the driving lead riffs of songs like "Day Job" and "Perfectly Still" smartly without getting in their way. Robin Wilson's lead vocals stay deep in the mix much of the time, but are plenty strong enough to stand up and be heard when they need to be.

Gin Blossoms may have blown their whole ambivalent image in one respect, though. In an era when everybody and their sister was hopping on the grunge / industrial / speed-metal / hip-hop / ambient / acid-jazz / trendy-sub-genre-of-the-week bandwagon, these guys made the gutsy commitment to play straight-ahead, hook-laden, all-guitar rock and roll. Well, except for their nicely executed country turn on "Memphis Time;" what was that all about -- oh, geez, these guys really are good at this, aren't they?

Rating: A-

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© 2002 Jason Warburg 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 A & M Records, and is used for informational purposes only.