“Is this the best it gets?” John Garrison asks in his plaintively seductive voice on the first cut from Budapest’s debut, Too Blind to Hear, on Republic Records. Garrison’s haunting vulnerability and the lush layers of instrumental disenchantment certainly have their charms, and you’ll want to like them both. The voice and the disenchantment could have been the creation of a PR firm, despite that these guys are all buds from the same ‘hood — Leamington Spa in Coventry, England, a small town known more for its quieter charms than its thriving nightlife. And though the suicide of guitarist Mark Walworth during the mastering of the CD certainly isn’t the product of any marketing guru’s genius, it does add another layer to the lyrics he didn’t write, let alone giving interviewers something to talk about other than Garrison’s refusal to indulge in traditional musical training, even though his father is a music professor. Palatable as it all is, Too Blind to Hear sometimes sounds a little bit like a punk version of well-orchestrated elevator music. It’s not offensive to listen to, but you do hope to hear the more original version that these guys might have in there somewhere.
Setting themselves up to make perfect music to wallow depressively about in, Budapest named themselves for the city which seemed closest to their sound — gritty in places, sophisticated in others. The musicianship of the band isn’t at all an issue, but they seem to be a bit by the book, even with their acoustic and electric guitar, meandering bass, dynamically precise drumming and dramatically overblown string section. There is enough directness in the guitar and drumming to save the whole thing from dissolving into a mushy heap of drippy mope rock.
When Garrison sings “I will try to hide in my head . . . Am I supposed to say the words I want to say to you right now?” from “Look you in the Eye” and “I got so much more to give” from “Life Gets in the Way,” it all seems to be about not managing to get the feelings out. It’s far less interesting and lyrically complex in “Wake Up Call” or “Save the Day,” where the feelings are just a bit too cut and dried to feel genuine.
By the time you’ve listened to all ten tracks and reached “Nothing New,” you’re torn and forlorn and can’t quite tell if, in fact, there is anything new or if that was the best it gets. Lyrics like “Everything will never be the same” do sound an awful lot like Fiction Plane’s “Everything will never be okay.” But even at its worst, Budapest’s sound, derivative of Radiohead and Smashing Pumpkins (minus the hooks that make the Pumpkins stick), is still quite listenable, with lyrics that are, at least at times, moving enough not to feel lifted straight from Sad Songs for Dummies. Likeable as it all is, Too Blind to Hear sometimes sounds a little bit like a punk version of well-orchestrated elevator music. It’s not that offensive to listen to, but you do hope to hear the more original version that these guys might have in there somewhere.