Two Way Monologue
here’s a weird line that got stuck in my head in the later stages of my adolescence. I can’t remember where it’s from; a film, a magazine, a story? But someone was talking to some old grizzled hick farmer, and the phrase “soft rock” is uttered. The farmer rears up contemptuously and roars, “You ever been hit in the head with a ‘soft rock’, boy?”
That vaguely absurd, always laugh-inducing line is what pops into my head whenever I read, hear or even think of the words “soft rock”. So I don’t think I should dub this album soft rock, as much as I’m tempted to. That most of the twelve songs here (including the Air-on-valium instrumental opener “Love You”) sound like they’re lost at sea, drifting in a haze of pleasant refinement, shouldn’t open young Mr. Lerche to mockery. It’s AOR, MOR pop, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. What’s unfortunate is that there are only a few times that his extra-soft touch really works, and they’re scattered pretty thinly over the album. Lerche himself is an assured and entertaining performer when his material holds up its end of the bargain; when he sings “You were naked / Which was weird” on “Track You Down”, it comes across as oddly charming rather than odd. He’s got a great voice for this style, always sounding diffident and relaxed.
But most of the tracks here fit into various categories of coffee table mood music; Lerche has a great knack for melodies, but seemingly not much of an idea what to do with them once he’s got them all lined up. The production varies from minimalist to baroque chamber-pop, sometimes within the span of the same song. The few times this approach works, such as on “It’s Too Late” or the absolutely gobsmackingly gorgeous closer “Maybe You’re Gone” (I could gladly listen to that outro for another two minutes), it really works; the problem here is not that Lerche can’t write good music in that form. He does still seem to be finding his feet there, though.
The real problem, though, is also the reason I wanted this CD. I saw the video for the title track and instantly fell in love. The version here is much longer and less punchy (although still wonderful), but it also sticks out like a sore thumb. It feels much more like a song than most of what’s here by retaining its focus throughout. It’s a wonderful slice of pop, and for once when Lerche is singing he’s not only charming and refined, he sounds committed. It’s got all the virtues of his other songs, but it has one major difference: it’s also compelling. I only loved the song more once I found out that its title metaphor doesn’t deal with relationship troubles, but parent troubles (which is genius). It’s one of my favorite songs of the year so far, but it also sounds several quantum leaps ahead of the rest of the album.
Don’t get me wrong; if all you’re looking for is an album to put on when you’re cleaning the house, Two Way Monologue will do just fine. But the title track will interrupt your dusting, and maybe someday Lerche will have a whole album of songs that good—laid-back or not.