When Close to Paradise, the sophomore album from Montreal’s Patrick Watson, was released a year ago, Canadian audiences and critics fell all over themselves for Watson’s syrupy croon, the album’s anthemic scope and, throughout, its irrepressibly buoyant pop. Hedging from pop music’s heaviest hitters — the dream-pop of the Beatles and Pink Floyd; Radiohead’s cinematic production; Jeff Buckley’s vocal reach — the band’s aim was no less than to make a classic. But all that groping for the stars left the band earth-bound. This set of songs is exquisitely executed but utterly tame and predictable.
Rather than drawing from their influences for inspiration, Patrick Watson and his band swallow their favorites whole, filling their songs with familiar chord progressions and deja vu-inducing lyrical tropes. That the album is only now being released stateside hardly helps it to feel less stale. Then again, this commercial schlock would have sounded woefully out of step five years ago. If nothing else, Patrick Watson is helping Canada even the cultural playing field. For better or worse, every country needs its own Coldplay, right?
What makes the album so unbearable, though, is the band’s conspicuous talent. In fact, the band might be too good at making pop music. That is, less sure-footed pop-smiths couldn’t help but take more risks, exhibit more imagination. Instead, the band employs a paint-by-numbers approach that’s safe but hardly fool-proof. There’s a braggart’s pride in these songs, too, as if the band had actually transcended the mire of so many obvious influences. But such a soulless integration of sounds is hardly close to paradise. In fact, Patrick Watson isn’t even on the map.