Act II: The Meaning Of, And All Things Regarding Ms. Leading

The Dear Hunter

Triple Crown Records, 2007

http://www.thedearhunter.com

REVIEW BY: Ken DiTomaso

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 11/17/2012

As one could probably guess, Act II: The Meaning Of, And All Things Regarding Ms. Leading is the second installment in The Dear Hunter’s multi-album concept-story-thing. In this installment, the main character’s mother Ms. Terri dies and he falls in love with a prostitute named Ms. Leading. Who’s next? A sister named Ms. Adventure? A teacher named Ms. Fortune? Anyway, if anything the lyrics are even dumber than they were on Act I, but the plot is more straightforward overall, so at least you can understand what this batch of pretentious teen poetry is actually on about (most of the time anyway).

The overall sound of the album is a little irksome. The production itself is actually quite colorful and varied, but the album has been so over-mastered that it’s all squished down. Instead of filling the whole room, the sound on this album sits in the corner. You know there are issues with an album’s dynamic range when the raucous guitars and drums that kick off the first song sound quieter than the orchestral intro that came before.

Casey Crescenzos over-emotive lead vocals are ever-present and work even less for me now than they did before. I can practically hear spittle being expulsed from Casey’s lips during the climaxes to some of these tracks (“Red Hands” and “The Bitter Suite Part 3” being the biggest of the many offenders). It sounded ridiculous on Act I and it sounds even more ridiculous here. On the other hand, the backing vocals continue to be arranged quite nicely, so that’s a plus.

Unlike Act I, Act II stretches out to maximum CD length, and with 14 full-length songs instead of just five (some of which run up to nine minutes), these cuts begin to blur together quickly. That’s a shame, since the best songs are almost all in the second half so you might not even notice them at first, and that first half really is a slog. The first two songs just go on and on, especially “The Lake And The River,” which rambles for nine minutes. It and “The Procession” are both fairly aggressive tracks and quickly jump between different sections, clearly trying to replicate the success of “City Escape” from Act I. But neither holds together in a particularly coherent way or features anything of substance to grab hold of. “The Church And The Dime” is a little bit better (I like the woodblock-led instrumental sections) but doesn’t have much to offer either.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

“The Oracles On The Delphi Express,” on the other hand, is a fairly successful song, and easily the highlight of the first half of the record. It has a good hook (“You’ve been stuck in the middle of...”) and a bouncy cabaret rhythm. It’s the kind of song that would be well suited playing in a steam-punk saloon.

The dubious honor of worst track on the album falls to the 14-minute-long “The Bitter Suite.” Two of its three parts are taken up by mushy ballads. The first part suffers from a lack of memorability and the third part suffers from being way too bombastic for its own good. It tries to be both the kind of song designed to get the audience pumping their fists and an attempt at an unearned emotional climax. It does contain a few decent melodic turns but they can’t save it from being total power-ballad mush. Sandwiched between the two lame ballads is a decent retread on the cabaret feel of “Delphi Express” but the best part of the track (the “Hey kid get a job” chorus) is reprised later on the album in the context of a better song, so there’s no reason to focus on it here.

I wouldn’t blame you if you gave up on Act II at this point; the notion that there’s still 40 more minutes of this kind of stuff to come would be enough to turn anybody off. But if you’ve listened this far, I urge you to stick with it, because out of nowhere comes a big shift in the right direction for The Dear Hunter.

“Smiling Swine” is The Dear Hunter’s best song so far. Its hook (“Now all the while...”) is so infectious I’m almost completely willing to forgive the usual lead vocal overkill. The backing vocals counting “one two three four” was a neat idea. It also crams all the verses at the beginning of the song and the chorus at the end, which is a neat choice from a songwriting perspective. Throw in some lovely atmospheric interludes, and that there is a damn good pop song! Likewise, I have little negative to say about “Evicted,” which is backed with rhodes keyboards, has a good tune, and a pretty cool backing vocal arrangement that reminds me a little of Of Montreal.

As a song “Blood Of The Rose” is merely average, but how often do you get a string-led tango in the middle of a modern rock album? That’s pretty neat. “Red Hands” goes for a similar power ballad approach to “The Bitter Suite Part 3,” which nearly spells disaster. The repeated “Oh my God what have I done?” line makes me roll my eyes, and the song’s ending is excessively bombastic. But it is leagues stronger melodically, which almost completely saves the tune.

The last few tracks also have plenty of tuneful sections, particularly “Black Sandy Beaches,” which features a lovely rising melody in its first half and a passionate and memorable chorus in its second. The closing track aims for a sweeping finish and succeeds without going into full-on bombast mode. I particularly enjoy the cute bouncy piano melody that repeats through the track.

It’s a shame that this album is so damn long and a huge portion of it is pretty much useless. Swap “Delphi Express” with “Where The Road Parts” (the one big dud in the second half, which is so forgettable it’s barely even worth mentioning) and cut everything before “Smiling Swine” and Act II would eclipse Act I by a huge margin. As it is, it’s still the better record, but only by a small amount. Getting through the lows can be a chore at the best of times, but the good tracks really make up for the bad.

Rating: B

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© 2012 Ken DiTomaso 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 Triple Crown Records, and is used for informational purposes only.