As a band that wears its influences on its sonic sleeve, LA-based quartet Cerulean faces a fateful question: where exactly is the borderline between homage -- musical emulation -- and fromage -- plain old cheese?
The Fractions EP -- Cerulean's latest production after two previous indie LPs -- feature big-as-the-sky, echo-laden guitars repeating urgent figures over throbbing basslines and crashing drums, with dramatic vocals coming over the top. If you loved Boy or The Unforgettable Fire, you'll recognize the sound from the opening notes of kickoff track "Here Is Hoping." Even the spacious production is a dead ringer for mid-'80s U2.
Alright, there is one X factor. Yes, guitarist Noel Kelly, bassist Jamie Carroll and drummer Dave Cerwonka often sound like a really talented U2 tribute band, but lead voice Rick Bolander does not sound much like Bono. No, instead, he is a dead ringer vocally for Tears For Fears frontman Roland Orzabal. (It's almost like somebody hit the wrong button on my local alt-rock station's "Eighties At Eight" show and played "Bad" and "Shout" at the same time….!)
The aforementioned "Here Is Hoping" and this five-song EP's closer "Flames And Semaphores" are the strongest tracks on this brief disc, with great energy and solid dynamics. The other three ("Like Fading Stars," "Stop Running," "Waving In Circles") didn't make as much of an impression on me, despite occasional strong moments.
In trying to diagnose the problem, I came to a couple of conclusions. One is that, while the lyrics have a kind of free-form sound-painting appeal, they don't really connect. They just aren't very specific or evocative, and therefore didn't lead my imagination anywhere in particular. That, in turn, tends to undermine the effect of the music. U2's big sound achieves a kind of majesty because Bono's lyrics are typically full of meaning and resonance and urgency. Lacking that emotional core, Cerulean's vibrant, artfully played music can at times sound overcooked.
That said, there is a lot to enjoy here -- Cerulean is obviously a talented bunch, and they've nailed a familiar, dynamic sound that I and many other rock fans enjoy a lot. I just think they'd be wise to work on developing the same level of engagement and emotional intensity in the lyrics that they've achieved in their music. Of course, as always, your mileage may vary -- if you just can't get enough '80s-style grab-you-by-the-lapels-and-shake Brit-rock, Cerulean may well sound like the second coming to you. You say tomato and I say cheese soufflé... or something like that.