September 27, 2005

Harvey Danger "Little by Little..."

Ah, Harvey Danger! They're best known--or, more correctly, only known---for the quirky "Flagpole Sitta," a silly and fun song that betrayed the band's true talents and abilities. Quickly forgotten, the world never had the chance to hear their follow-up, King James Version, because, well...that's how the music business works. Gotta keep the contractual obligations to the also-rans, and when the hits don't come, you've got the wonderful escape clause that allows you to drop them and leave 'em for dead. Which, of course, is exactly what happened. The band got their fifteen minutes of fame, the labels got a little bit richer off of them, and when it was was over. How many bands survive after being thrown through such a well-oiled killing machine? Not many.

While their two previous albums might have been filled with crunchy pop songs with a distinctive power-pop edge, Little by Little... is notable for not being filled with crunchy power-pop songs. Nelson isn't yelling like he used to; instead, he's offering up a damn-near sexy croon, singing heartfelt words of love and joy. So while Harvey Danger might not 'rock' like before, it certainly doesn't mean that they've faltered in the songwriting department. Sure, "Cool James" and "Cream and Bastards Rise" sound like classic Harvey Danger, but for the most part, the band eschewed the loud guitars for quiet, delicate pianos and an overall melodicism that's quite enchanting. It's hard not to love the Ben Folds Five-esque "Happiness Writes White," and the introductory "Wine, Women and Song" is a jazzy little number that reminds more than a bit of the great Joe Jackson.

Harvey Danger's one strength has always been its clever lyrical content, and even though the album marks a dramatic change in the band's musical style, it's refreshing to know that frontman Sean Nelson still retains his keen wit. When considering Harvey Danger's history, one song deserves closer examination. Though it's not completely obvious, one can't help but wonder if Nelson and company are using their previous experiences with the big Music Business world as lyrical fodder. This question comes up on the fast-paced "Cream and Bastards Rise," a cautionary tale where Mr. Nelson sings to one who is "doing everything your people said to" and warns of "people who can buy and sell you." He warns that the person you consider a friend "will eclipse you and he will not miss you." By song's end, one wonders if the song serves less as a cautionary tale and more as a comfort to those who have suffered his fate--the fate of getting one's fifteen minutes of fame.

As a special bonus, Little by Little... comes with a nine-track addendum. Though this little record might initially serve to satiate the hardcore Dangerheads, one shouldn't assume the songs are throwaways. Sure, the writing snippets are silly and nonessential, but the leftover tracks certainly shouldn't be neglected. Check out the jazzy lounge version of "Cream and Bastards Rise," the middle-finger to Declan McManus that is "Elvis I Don't Love You Anymore" and the rather rockin' "Picture, Picture."

Little by Little... is an obscure jewel, but it's certainly a wonderful find. It's also a beautiful flip-off to those who wrote Harvey Danger off years ago, because survival is the ultimate form of revenge. So welcome back, guys...the world's needed you, and let's make up for lost time, shall we?

--Joseph Kyle

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