Notwithstanding

Chalk FarM

Columbia Records, 1996

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chalk_FarM_(band)

REVIEW BY: Gordon T. Gekko

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 01/27/1998

Many freshman albums are plagued with inconsistency, filler, and clumsy instrumentals. This is one of those albums. Popular L.A. club act Chalk FarM's debut, and so far, only album, Notwithstanding, is a tepid, poorly arranged affair. It also has some killer tracks, and perhaps the pretiest alternative ballad ever written.

The focus here is on apathetic relationships, which provides for some bitter, depressing, but powerful imagery. They basically are making the same "elegantly wasted" statement that the Stones were making a quarter-century ago.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

"The lights are low/If the candles on my coffin let me know" is one of the ambiguous, perhaps silly, but all together, powerful statements which help the album along. Lead singer Michael Duff, angrily laments later in the song: "Why did you never hurt me?" All of his relationships have been painfully distant. He wants the kind of intimate pain you see in the movies.

The album is actually a nice, manegable length as well. With 14 tracks, at 63:32, the band doesn't try to fill the CD, and you will not feel ripped-off to find out the album is a half-hour long. (Reagardless of length, if an album is great, you will never feel ripped off.)

But this album is not great. It brings new meaning to the term "laid-back". Chalk FarM makes Dire Straits sound like the Sex Pistols. These are the songs you don't even hear when they come on the radio.

There are, of course, a few exceptions, as many of you already know if you skip ahead to the rating first thing (admit it). "I'm Awake" has a strong, uplifting chorus, and "Wonder" is genuinely touching. Then comes the centerpiece: "It's Up to You" is an incredible track. With this one, Chalk FarM does what few bands of the 90s can do, touch a spot deep inside you were certain no one else knew about. It makes the album worth buying, even if there are as many bad songs as good ones.

I take that back. There are really no bad songs on the album. Some of them are really just too mellow for most people's taste. They are also very good in concert, and have a loyal following.

And one more thing. Listening to Nothwithstanding, I noticed how much it remindes me of Wilco's 1994 debut A.M. If they can make a second album like Being There, then they certainly have my respect.

Rating: C+

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© 1998 Gordon T. Gekko 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 Columbia Records, and is used for informational purposes only.