Chasing The Mad Rabbit
J-Bird Records, 1998
REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 11/20/1998
I'm always a little bit apprehensive whenever I prepare to listen to an album that has been done by one or two people. There's always the concern in my mind that, because they tried to do so much, something will be a weak link - and it will be a mother. I always feel some tinges of doubt, even before I pop the disc into my player.
Then, there's New Jersey-based Bliss. A two-man band (with Michael Trapp handling all the instruments and Matt Wells all the vocals), Bliss is one of the few bands who actually manage to get things right. Everything sounds so natural that you'd be hard-pressed to believe that all the sounds on their debut Chasing The Mad Rabbit didn't come from a full band.
As a musician, Trapp's abilities astounded me. While it did occasionally sound like some of the instruments came off a synthesizer, the overall sound to my ears was that many of these instruments were indeed natural. (If they were synthesized, then Trapp did a damn good job.) No matter what the instrument in question, from lead guitar to solid drum work, Trapp switches over almost as naturally as if he were changing his shoes. As a songwriter, Trapp is just as talented; almost every song on this 16-track disc held my attention.
Of course, Wells had a hand in some of the songwriting as well, and should be duly credited for a job well done. Vocally, Wells's style is surprisingly prolific. One minute, Wells sounds like he'd have been an ideal candidate to replace Steve Perry in Journey; the next minute, I could swear that I was listening to Ozzy Osbourne circa 1971; the next, Wells is doing his best Trent Reznor impersonation.
And while only one or two guises don't fit his vocals that well (I wasn't particularly fond of the industrial-style sound on "Sick", though it was a good track aside from that), Wells's vocal gymnastics are surprisingly adept to whatever he sets out to try. However, there are limits to his magnificence; once or twice on "Insides Out," I thought I heard him go a little flat, though he recovered each time.
The songs on Chasing The Mad Rabbit are enough to restore anyone's faith in independent rock. From the power-pop sensibility of "Once Upon A Time" and "Colorblind" to the psychedelia of "Karmic Wheel," from the spit-in-the-face rebellion of "Little Bitches" (tell me they sent a copy of this to Tipper Gore) to the Kurt Cobain tribute of "Nevermind," Bliss simply amazes the listener at their skill. Their on-line bio says that Bliss wanted to create the ultimate rock CD. They've come really close.
But while I can appreciate that Trapp and Wells do not want to be trapped behind one particular genre of music, it sometimes feels like they're trying to cover too much ground on Chasing The Mad Rabbit. Instead of trying to grab for the brass ring on their first effort, they might have tried first building up their sound (which is pretty much on the money already) and then tried to expand their musical horizons. I'm just concerned that trying to be too many bands too often would confuse someone who wanted to program them onto their radio station or who wanted to market this disc to a specific fan base.
Still, these points are minor, and they do not take away from the overall power of the songwriting and musicianship of Chasing The Mad Rabbit. Trapp and Wells can look back on this disc and realize that they've created something fine - here's hoping that this isn't the last we've heard of Bliss.