Hey, who loves musical theatre? OK, so what about guitar grrl Tracy Bonham? Remember her? She had that one song a few years ago. You know, “Mother, Mother?” Ah, yes. And Josh Haden of emo-folkies Spain? The hot Bush guy, Gavin Rossdale? No? Well, all these lovely people, along with other fading semi-stars, can be found singing lead vocals on a brand new pop-rock album from the experimental theater collective Blue Man Group! Wow, so little excitement in the crowd tonight. Alright then, imagine this: a glossy rock groove based around the infinitely insightful question: “If I sing a song/Will you sing along?” But it gets better. Vocalist on aforementioned track is none other than the world’s best-loved professional fraternity jock, one David Matthews. You know, the stars with whom a group chooses to collaborate may soil their creative temperament.
Blue Man Group’s new CD The Complex clearly falls within the cozy confines of overbearing irony. The record should be prefaced with a warning: music contained within is not to be taken seriously, but please visit our Web site, where all sorts of humorous Blue Man merchandise may be added to your burgeoning collection. The Blue-domed off-Broadway stars clearly aim to expand their sizable media empire’s grip on public consciousness. The cast has grown from three to more than thirty Blue Men, and their popularity reaches beyond a two-hour show at Astor Place Theatre, appearances on Intel Inside ads, and Moby’s Area 2 summer tour. The Complex‘s second single, “The Current,” will be the theme from summer’s Terminator 3, and endorsements from the Bald One, mighty new-age techno investor, only increase the certainty of more soundtrack work to come.
But again I find myself wandering self-consciously off topic. This material feels as if it were written by committee, and I can only imagine a group meeting to decide whether the distortion starts right now or two measures later to ready the inexperienced listener for its precisely calculated crunch. These are some of the most predictably uninspired compositions I have had the misfortune to encounter. “Up to the Roof” attempts genuine rock bravado, only to fall flat on its ridiculous face during the choral power chord shouting. I cannot remember distorted guitars sounding so tame, and Ms. Bonham tries her best to reveal an inner bitch but ends up providing pubescent strip-mall punks with their cock-rock masculinity fix.
“That two beat pattern is in every rock and roll number,” says a simulated male voice on “What is Rock.” But does humor make up for the mediocrity of this track’s mock grunge yelps and “I don’t know/ Where to go” choruses? The Blue Man Group has presented an entire album of thoroughly generic pop rock anchored by their tubular percussion, with tongues planted firmly in cheeks. Particularly unexceptional electric guitar work mires the entire set in redundant Barre chords and four-note solos.
This record reeks of current buzzword “meta,” which means what, exactly? Pained attempts at clever irony? A sitcom character turning to address the camera? Has this current trend toward the self-consciously mediocre gone too far? Adaptation‘s smug self-portrait worked for me, but the Friends cast’s persistent attempts to remind the viewer that we’re all just watching an irrelevantly idiotic TV show anyway do nothing to excuse their dismal source material. And how can someone respond to bands like Fischerspooner, an intentionally excessive rock-opera camp playing with dinky drum machines and costumes straight from Cats circa 1982?
The Complex‘s pop crossover falls far short of its lofty goals as a pinnacle of self-mockery. And I sit unconvinced that this is not all very serious. Hiding beneath the pop gloss of “Persona” rests an esoteric rumination on identity, as the narrator puts it on and takes it off everyday, only to find more layers waiting underneath. “There’s a feeling that I get sometimes/ It’s so small that it’s easy to hide,” Josh Haden sings, and no one ever summed up my own self-doubt so concisely.
BMG’s Web site claims they are “aided by some of today’s most intriguing vocalists” on this record. I hope for the sake of all involved this is just another attempt at forcibly subtle humor. And don’t think they’d forget the massive hip-hop constituency, hiring X-cutioner turntablist Rob Swift in a last-ditch effort toward something vaguely resembling credibility. “Please yell if you’re paying attention,” reads the flat digital voice on “Your Attention.” And I earnestly tried to do the latter, but this paint-by-numbers farce is nowhere near inspired enough to yell about.