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Mean Creek's The Sky (or the Underground)

Reviewed by John Hashop

In the spirit of “If you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything,” I called my editor after listening to the Boston foursome Mean Creek's latest, The Sky (or the Underground), to ask if I could just pretend my iPod ate my homework.

I respectfully suggest that any members of Mean Creek or their loved ones – or even any of their fans – who happen to be reading this write off the following as some jackass from Austin's – living in New York, mind you! – stupid opinion, or, better yet, just stop at the end of this sentence. If you are still reading, be forewarned, here are a few of the words and phrases that will feature in the rest of this blessedly short article: “generic,” “repetitive,” “scrap heap” and “just plain awful”...

...Which is bizarre, because I was eager to take on this review after scanning some of the press about the band. “A melodic tour de force,” touts The Boston Herald. “This could be the best lineup in Boston,” raves The Globe. Now I know it's bad form to rag on other critics, but Jesus, Boston, if this is the best you've got on tap, perhaps you should give the whole music thing a miss and just stick with educating and chowder.

Ok, review: Mean Creek presents itself as rootsy-indie folk-rock, and thirty seconds into the opening title track, I'm nodding in approval and hope – solid ringing guitar riff, cascading far, so good. Then the singing happens, and the wheels just fall right the hell off. Breathy vocals that are out of place with the tone, repetitive (repetitive) phrasing and generic lyrics absolutely destroy any chance for this album. Also, if you know these people could you please tell them that every goddamn line doesn't have to rhyme with the goddamn next one? Couplets have very little place in rock music – 18th century English poetry, yes, rock, no. Pardon the outburst, but I'm a bit on edge after listening to lines like “Why do I waste my ti-iiime/Swimming in a sea of sli-iiime? Why do I lose contro-oool? Either way the hype machine will ro-oooll” for the past hour.

Enough. There are, in fact, a few positives to report. Plenty of salvageable parts in the scrap heap are for the taking. The jangly hook in “It's Good to Be Back Again” stands out as something that could be lifted and stitched into another song as does... well, I hope you get the point if we're having this discussion. What else? Everyone in the band can definitely play, no doubt whatsoever about that. This, of course, makes the album an all the more frustrating listen; hearing good musicians play bad songs really gets to me. It's like watching Bobby Flay prime the grill, get some mesquite chips glowing and then throw on some rice cakes. Why would you do that?

The Sky (and the Underground) makes it very clear that if Mean Creek is to go forward, it's probably time for them to step back and try songwriting from a completely different approach.

Not recommended and, as promised, “just plain awful.”


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