Bombast has its place in rock music. From Queen’s theatrical pomposity to the indie-cabaret of the Decemberists, from Rufus to Radiohead to My Chemical Romance to the Boss, musical over-indulgence, when executed correctly, adds an element of glory to the ordinary form. Take U2, for example: More than just a frontman, people believe Bono to be a savoir. And I’ll be the first one to knock Bono off his ambassadorial pedestal, but the guy can write a pretty solid song, and his band knows exactly how to provide the soundtrack, with relatively few studio tricks, to his grandiose lyric sheets.
But if there’s a trait that can sink a band, it’s undeserved pretentiousness (see: the Killers). Although the members of Ohio’s Lovedrug haven’t yet appointed themselves the single greatest musical entity of human beings to exist, ever, on planet Earth, there is an element of posturing in their second album, Everything Starts Where It Ends, that comes off not only as unmerited, but also grating, confused and juvenile.
Let’s not focus too heavily on the lyrics. It’s clear that singer Michael Shepard hasn’t. Take the title: This willed lyrical obfuscation–what starts, what ends?–fits a band such as Radiohead, which supplements less-than-direct lyrics with a specialized form of cerebral and progressive but always accessible rock. For Lovedrug, whose music shifts between distilled versions of The Bends-era Radiohead, Muse, pre-adult-contemporary Coldplay and Smashing Pumpkins, these lyrics play like the deliberate abstractness of a bad high school poet. When Shepard pines for a lost love in “Ghost by Your Side” by complaining he’s getting “No reception on my heart radio,” it makes those simple declarations of love in every ’50s pop song seem that much more powerful.
His voice deserves only one brief mention. It’s not easy to listen to. It can sound forced and whiny. Very forced. Very whiny. Put on “American Swimming Lesson.” Or actually, don’t.
There are some high points, though. “Casino Clouds,” comes complete with relatively straightforward lyrics and the energy and dense layers of a great rock chorus. It’s a little overdone with the string section, but not a bad tune. And despite Coldplay having already done it five or six times (to its discredit as well), “Thieving” and “Doomsday & The Echo” have the sweeping guitar flourishes and thick, far-reaching crescendos that might make you want to give the record another try.
But on the first two tracks, “Happy Apple Poison” and “Pushing the Shine,” what you hear is ultimately representative of the album: crunching guitars and half-baked electronics, darkly ambiguous lyrics, all of it over-produced and glossy, pre-packaged to accommodate the undiscerning rock fan. Hey, it’s big and shiny, it must be good. But essentially Everything Starts Where It Ends is a giant bite from everything in Muse’s catalog (which already has its mouth full of Radiohead’s). The final product is like a so-so movie everyone’s already seen. You already know what’s going to happen, so why bother?