Major Lodge Victory
REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 08/14/2006
Just how good is it to hear the driving drums, surging chords and yearning vocals that signal the return of star-crossed 90s jangle-rock icons the Gin Blossoms? For this listener at least, it’s like somebody hit rewind and started summer all over again.
Of course, I can already hear the first knock from the “critics” -- “they sound just like before.” Well, *yeah*… they sounded GREAT before.
Furthermore, the “nothing new” slap just isn’t the case. True, in the early going Major Lodge Victory does recall the classic 90s Blossoms sound, complete with twin-engine guitars polished to a potent sheen by producer-in-residence John Hampton. But this is a different GBs album for a different time. After an early history dogged by turmoil and tragedy, and an early sound that juxtaposed fat, propulsive guitar lines with downbeat lyrics, this disc dares to ask if the world is ready for a *happy* Gin Blossoms album.
Granted, the opener has that familiar ambivalent feel, what with the guys “Learning The Hard Way” over a ripping good riff. Taking into account classicist GB-isms such as “Counting up the hours / For the perfect time to leave,” this one would indeed fit right in alongside the melancholy bounce of “Hey Jealousy” or “Follow You Down.” Even when some aspects reflect past glories, though, the music here feels punched up with an energy that’s more light than dark. “Come On Hard” might have emerged as a thundering self-indictment in the old days; here, when lead vocalist Robin Wilson sings “I promise I won’t hurt you anymore,” it feels risky but ultimately hopeful.
The sunnier sound here coincides with a larger role for guitarist/harmony vocalist Jesse Valenzuela, who pulls a co-producer credit in addition to writing the bulk of these songs, several with Sue Sandberg and/or the Rembrandts’ Danny Wilde. Valenzuela’s harmonizing with Wilson has never sounded better, whether on slower numbers like the gorgeous ballad “Someday Soon” or on faster cuts like the positively bubbly “Heart Shaped Locket” and “Let’s Play Two.” Also keenly felt on songs like the latter is the power-pop influence of
Wilson and Valenzuela, who in the past have rarely co-written, do it twice here with strong results. “The End Of The World” is a well-arranged, keening ballad, while “Long Time Gone” mines the classic GBs guitar-pop sound while featuring some of the pair’s strongest harmonies.
Later on, “Curious Thing” offers a blast of textbook verse-chorus Marshall Crenshaw power-pop, complete with call-and-answer vocals, and “Fool For The Taking” delivers an extra-punchy Replacements-on-a-sugar-high feel. The album closes with the mid-tempo “
For the longtime fan, it’s hard at times to keep from missing the aggressive guitar work that lit up both New Miserable Experience and Congratulations I’m Sorry; this set gives lead guitarist Scotty Johnson scant moments to shine. He manages to plant one sweet solo in “Come On Hard,” but this time out the GBs are more about hooky choruses than blazing guitars. Bassist Bill Leen’s presence feels similarly understated, though he does contribute one of the disc’s finest ballads, the melancholy “Jet Black Sunrise.”
After ten years of waiting for the follow-up to Congratulations I’m Sorry, though, it feels petty to quibble about such things. A set of mostly upbeat songs from a group of years-more-mature guys might not be as immediately compelling as the uber-angst that surrounded this band in younger days, but there’s more than enough excitement here to suggest the Blossoms have a long road still to run.