Heresy and the Hotel Choir
t’s a shame to see a musician like Davey Von Bohlen become a slave to public opinion. When the Promise Ring called it quits, the young singer/songwriter decided to make music that sounded nothing like the hopped-up power pop of his former band. As a result, the first two releases by his new band Maritime—the Adios EP and the full-length Glass Floor—were lush gems, marked by expressive singing, a smattering of brass instruments, and a reliance on acoustic guitar.
Unfortunately, his fans took to the new direction much like they did to the Promise Ring's moody, pastoral final album, Wood/Water, which is to say with pure indifference. They wanted to hear the big hooks, heavy drums, and new wave influences that comprised some of his best-known songs. Rather than staying the course, however, Von Bohlen took the cold shoulder too much to heart and has since been trying to recapture his former glory on 2005's We, The Vehicles, and the band's latest effort, Heresy and the Hotel Choir.
If the songs he writes for Maritime were pure facsimiles of his former band's work, it would sound downright embarrassing. Thankfully, Von Bohlen is a better musician than that. The tracks that he has crafted for Heresy still pack a melodic punch, rendering the listener dizzy with catchy hooks and choruses. As well, he has not completely jettisoned the more mature approach that he brought to this new project. Even when the songs have a slightly harder edge to them—as on the forceful "Hand Over Hannover" and the skipping rhythms of "Hours That You Keep"—they are still less fitful than some of his former band's work.
Still, the best songs on Heresy are those where Von Bohlen and company rein in the tempos, opting for a gentler sound. This is especially true of the lilting "Aren't We All Found Out," which makes wonderful use of a Rhodes electric piano and a shimmering guitar sound. And in "Be Unhappy," the guitarists allow for a lot of empty space between their stabs, giving some much needed breathing room to a song that lies between two of the album's most chord-filled efforts.
For a regressive move, Heresy is quite a coup for Maritime, worthy to stand aside any other album in Von Bohlen's ever-growing catalog, and something that will no doubt please those folks that don't want him to move too far forward. But unless they are willing to let the songwriter stretch himself a little bit every now and again, his work and their interest in it will no doubt suffer as a result.
Reviewed by: Bob Ham
Reviewed on: 2007-10-11