August 21, 2002

Year of the Rabbit

Year of the Rabbit is easily the Dr. Jeckyl and Mr. Hyde album of the year. I've been really, really torn about how I should approach it. On one hand, I really love the album. It has that quality that makes you go "YEAH!!!" when you put it on your stereo. On the other hand, there's a high price to be paid for such a universal sound. If I give it a good review, I'd be guilty of holding myself back; if I give it a bad review, I'd be guilty of not pointing out its strong points. Sadly, this is not an album where you can give a mixed review, either; when it's good, it's real good, when it's bad, it's utterly horrible.

First the good things. Year of the Rabbit sound awesome. It's quite obvious that these guys--who have been making music professionally for the past thirteen years--have got some mad skills. Year of the Rabbit sound as if they spent the last three years on tour before they set foot in a studio. Their songs have a very tough punch that could have easily kicked the ass of STP, Pearl Jam and Alice In Chains; their music is extremely radio-friendly, too, which would have been to their advantage--in theory, at least--ten years ago. Put this one on your car stereo, crank it up and drive--you'll have one wonderful experience, because these guys rock in a way so few bands do now.

What, then, makes Year of the Rabbit so problematic? It's because it's so been there, done that, so by-the-book, that to indulge in it seems wrong. Of course, when you sound like a dead-ringer for Kurt Cobain, and your sound is horribly dated, it's hard to accept it as being anything but new. I figured that these guys would have at least tried to avoid the cliches of ten years ago. (Has it really been a decade?) Sadly, Year of the Rabbit sounds like a conceptual Cobain-sung version of Foo Fighters, and nothing more. None of the songs really stick out; they're all 'good' in that vague kind of way that goes along with someone who is 'good' in all of the fundamentals.

Even more puzzling is the fact that they're an unknown band getting major-label funding. How did this happen? This album is a total anomaly; it's retro-rock of the worst kind, and it's about ten years past its prime. That's the catch, though. Maybe that is their shtick. Maybe they're the retro band--maybe they're trying to make it big by regurgitating the past, milking the nostalga of yesteryear for $omething a little more rewarding. THey do it so well, though, that you'd be forgiven for thinking that this was an older record. It's so clean and inoffensive and radio friendly, it's the musical equivalent of a bandaid. Year of the Rabbit needlessly wastes a perfectly good parental warning sticker, too--somewhere, an ODB record goes unlabelled. A real tragedy, that.

It's a fine line between redefining older sounds and simply living in the past, and Year Of the Rabbit zig-zag across the border without a care in the world. Year of the Rabbit is an album that says absolutely nothing by some extremely talented people. It sounds excellent, but at what price? Is the sacrifice of a soul really worth the end results? This album is like the pink lemonade I drink around the home office--yummy, sweet, enjoyable, but yet it's totally empty of calories.

--Joseph Kyle

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