Mason Jennings walks a tenuous tightrope. On the one hand, he got his major break filling in for the Jayhawks’ standing Thursday gig and sang two songs in Todd Phillips’ I’m Not There. On the other, Jennings is signed to Jack “Banana Pancakes” Johnson’s Brushfire Records. While it’s unfair to judge an artist based on who signs his checks, there are clear indications on Blood of Man that Jennings has either found his muse in the boring, consumable surf-pop of Johnson or was railroaded into softening the few edges he has so that the blood pressure of whoever it is listens to this kind of music remains in a near-comatose state.
The real tragedy Blood of Man is that Jennings describes it as his rediscovery of the electric guitar and the turmoil of youth. Spurred by his son asking what an electric guitar was and an impromptu jam of the Who’s “My Generation,” Jennings was inspired to quickly record an album that captured the rawness and complex emotions of the moment and rediscovered some of his original sound profile. This, particularly on an artist’s eighth album, would seem to be a worthy exercise.
The problem is that the whole album ends up sounding like any other in the singing-songwriting surfer genre. The songs bleed into one another without much distinction musically. There are slight variations in tempo, but every song revolves around a simple guitar line and shambles along without any real urgency or purpose. Jennings’ lyrics vacillate between the treacle of “Sunrise,” where minutes freeze like popsicles, and the violent “Black Wind Blowing,” which all too graphically imagines a revenge fantasy engendered by the murder of the protagonist’s family. Both lyrical viewpoints strike false, and neither does much to separate itself from the plodding instrumentation that truly characterizes Blood of Man.