hen did it become a crime to write catchy, passionate songs?
What’s wrong with infusing music with fat power chords, thick rhythms and robust textures? Why is it condemnable to craft songs with harmonies and choruses so finely constructed they immediately bring to mind some of modern rock’s best and brightest talents?
And, now that Los Angeles alt rockers, Lifehouse, has done all that and more on its sophomore release, Stanley Climbfall, is the band now supposed to hang its collective head in shame for producing yet another recording of readily pleasurable and gripping grandiose rock?
Lifehouse has been both criticized and hailed for their mainstream compliant/FM-friendly compositions, dating back to 2000 when the chart topping single “Hanging By A Moment” off the multi-platinum No Name Face debut dominated radio and MTV. Disparagement has also been tossed their way for sounding like “other” cathartic bands, namely Pearl Jam, Creed and Stone Temple Pilots (with a healthy smattering of U2’s spirituality and spiraling Edge-like riffs). The similarities should come as no surprise to anyone who knows anything about music: Stanley Climbfall was produced by the prolific Brendan O’Brien, whose resume’ boasts not only Pearl Jam, Creed and STP, but also Soundgarden, Train and Matthew Sweet. As well, frontman Jason Wade’s smoky, deep and emotionally reaching vocals are constantly and unavoidably compared to Eddie Vedder, Scott Stapp and Scott Weiland. Although this only seems to stir up more criticism, to be held up to the template of those three singers is not such a bad thing at all.
This new disc establishes the ground rules right away by kicking off with the infectious single “Spin,” a colossal number fueled by a sneaky Zeppelinesque bridge outro and the same propulsive and hard-edged pop/rock grooves found in its sonic sister, “Out of Breath.” Both are shot out of the canon with immediate energy and a fierce celebratory verve. Yet where “Out of Breath” is jubilant and up-turned, “Take Me Away” is conversely reverent and internalized. Jason Wade sings these songs with genuine ardor, delivered earnestly (think Stapp joined at the vocal chords with Vedder) and rendered successfully. Likewise, Wade’s emotive vocalizations, hooky guitar and combination bass/percussion rhythm imbue each note of “The Sky is Falling,” (a song with subtly-masked references to 9/11) with a poignant delicacy usually reserved for more venerable bands of rock, such as U2.
Jason Wade’s flair for passion pop is demonstrated time and time again in songs like the haunting “Stanley Climbfall” and the rapturously sensual “My Precious.” The singer/songwriter has gone on recording, claiming he wrote most of the songs naturally, letting the songs ‘breathe’ and find their own distinctive Lifehouse sound, while he focused on conveying personal experiences and beliefs through the music. “The Beginning,” “How Long” (both with meticulous Edge-like guitar flourishes), “Empty Space” and the powerfully interpreted “Wash” are just a few examples of this ‘sound’-- of vibrant, meaningful songs where all the riffs, breaks, intros, and outros consistently hit the mark.
Lifehouse has put it all on the line this time, making a heartfelt and sonically stirring recording that has the music world asking, “are they true contenders or just pretenders?” Hopefully the merits of the resplendent Stanley Climbfall will outweigh pre-mature detraction and the California band will be deemed fully deserving of all its initial and subsequent praise.
Reviewed by: Roxanne Blanford
Reviewed on: 2003-09-01