Gotta hand it to Pete Droge, he's not a man who lets anything stand in the way of his music. Droge benefitted from being discovered by Pearl Jam's Mike McCready back when Pearl Jam was the big thing, and he was outfitted for next-big-thing status. Unfortunately, all he got was a minor one-hit wonder song, "If You Leave Me (I'll Kill Myself)" and no record sales. You'd think being regulated to the cutout bins would bring him down, but no--Droge has never really gone away, he's just been living on the edge of edge of obscurity. This past year, he formed The Thorns with Matthew Sweet and Shawn Mullins, and released a very excellent debut.
Skywatching is Droge's newest album in five years, and it's almost as if the slate has been wiped clean. Nobody heard Pete Droge in the 90s, save for that one novelty song, and the three records that he released were all released to diminishing returns. Heck, they're so obscure, they're rare. Droge could easily have been dismissed as yet another disappointing hangover from the days when people thought 'alternative' meant something. Thankfully, Droge isn't washed up, and Skywatching serves as a great (re)introduction to this neglected talent.
For the first time in his career, a Pete Droge record actually sounds like Pete Droge. Not that the other albums were bad, mind you--but with the pressures and interference and whatnot that are par for the course when you're signed to a megamajor label, it was easy to get the feeling that Droge was either restraining his talents, or was being held back due to production and label insistence. Skywatching is a record that is not held back by anything, and in a way, Droge sounds utterly liberated. His songs have an air of freedom to them, and he's allowed to breathe in song. More importantly, Droge sounds focused on the songs. Not that he wasn't before, but the emphasis now seems to be "How can we make this song excellent," as opposed to the unspoken "How can we make a commercial hit?"
While Skywatching might feel like a debut album, it's to Droge's benefit, as the past ten years have not gone to waste. He's certainly blossomed into a fine songwriter, and the songs indeed speak for themselves. From the opening "Small Time Blues," Droge makes it clear that just because he was gone, didn't mean he had given up. It's always a good sign when an artist puts the best song of their career first on their new album, and it's even better when you discover that the opening song isn't the strongest one on the record! That's pretty much what Skywatching does; it leads you in with a great song, only to reveal an album's worth of great songs. From the classic-rock (as in Fifties) "She Got the Potion" to the baroque-pop of "Things Will Change and Go My Way," Droge is in fine form throughout, and his voice is as strong as his songwriting vision.
So let's welcome Pete Droge back to the music world. He's doing it right this time, and he sounds fabulous. Skywatching is a strong record, and here's hoping that his next albums only improve upon this strong return to form. After all, the world needs intelligent songwriters, and do they get much smarter than Droge? Well, that may be, but do they sound as good as Droge? I bet not.