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:
“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 drums...so
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