February 21, 2004

Jason Collett "Motor Motel Love Songs"

Bowling is a challenging enterprise, and no doubt difficult to master. Going a step further, with the right people and a few pitchers of inoffensive domestic lager, bowling is fun. Here’s the thing about bowling, though: I am not compelled to do it more than once every couple of years, and watching masters of the sport perform appeals to me in no way. Rolling a ball forward to topple some pins is just too literal a form of entertainment for my tastes.

Speaking of literal forms of entertainment, what about Jason Collett’s Motor Motel Love Songs? I mean, these are really good songs and it took a significant amount of sheer talent to craft them. “Gabe,” with its pedal steel, lyrics about longing and a vocal that’s been around the block a few times, resembles the best alt-country you’ve ever heard. Midway through “Tiny Ocean of Tears” I half expect to hear some jostling behind the microphone and a haggard Jeff Tweedy - circa Summerteeth - to finish out the tune. “It Won’t Be Long” and “Honey I Don’t Know” establish Collett as an upper echelon balladeer. The latter’s line, “But sometimes faith just hides / What you don’t want to see” hits its mark with inches to spare in a song about lovers who can’t help being mean.

For all the technical proficiency, though, the element of surprise is noticeably absent from this collection. Collett being a key member of Broken Social Scene and managing to produce something so safe and sterile is the only stunner here. While there’s no “I’m Still Your Fag,” there’s cello right where you would expect it. A female vocal chimes in just when and how you knew it would. The overall vibe approaches 70s singer-songwriter, to the extent that the opener “Bitter Beauty” kicks off with the same one-two drum pop that ushered in “Maggie May” all those years ago. The lily-white, soft rocking Mrazian in your life will bob head accordingly, but the more discerning music fan is bound to pull a muscle digging for a distinguishing feature. Statistically speaking, this record is the musical median.

Jason Collett may have picked up a 7-10 split with Motor Motel Love Songs, an accomplishment solely within the realm of only the most skilled of bowlers. Each song on Motor Motel Love Songs bears the mark of an expert. The harmonies are pleasant. The lyrics, at a minimum, scratch at meaning’s surface, if not occasionally reaching its core. The production, arrangements and musicianship ooze professionalism. But while Motor Motel Love Songs achieves a certain kind of proficiency, it’s still just bowling, and Earl Anthony never did it for me. And really, if you’ve found your way to the bottom of this review, he shouldn’t be doing it for you either.

--Andrew Ullrich

No comments: