Burning in the Sun
First Appeared in The Music Box, March 2005, Volume 12, #3
Written by John Metzger
Over the course of the past half century, the record industry has transformed itself into a massive, money-making enterprise, and in the process, the act of creating music has become, at times, more of a science than an art. These days, every band that gains even a modicum of success is dissected thoroughly, and its parts are then reconstituted with Frankenstein-ian authority until an army of heavily diluted replicas roams the planet. Unfortunately, the public happily submits and resubmits to this scheme by purchasing each formulaic reiteration in greater and greater quantities, and in the process, it provides the only incentive necessary for keeping such a strategy in place.
With a recipe that fuses the genre-jumping, acoustic-inclinations of the Dave Matthews Band with Coldplay’s fondness for over-the-top earnestness, the Nashville-based group Blue Merle is the latest corporate concoction that seems destined for widespread, mainstream acceptance. Indeed, shading its songs with a bluegrass-tinged hue is about as original as the collective gets on its debut Burning in the Sun, and not surprisingly, its compositions are as predictable as the sunrise. Everything, from its attempts to manufacture emotion by draping tracks like Stay and Every Ship Must Sail Away in an orchestral accompaniment to the overly sentimental, self-deprecating lyricism that fills Lucky to Know You and Part of Your History, precisely follows a predetermined blueprint for sculpting, mundane as it may be, a hit single.
There are moments, too, when Blue Merle sounds as if it began its life as a bar band that was smitten with the repertoire of the Counting Crows, and while that superficially isn’t such a bad thing, each of the 12 tunes featured on Burning in the Sun feel as if they’re being delivered by a group that is comprised not of energetic youngsters who dream of fame and fortune, but of complacent, middle-age men who already have achieved it. In other words, in crafting the affair, Blue Merle played it safe, and that definitely is not a good tactic for an up-and-coming ensemble to employ. Although there are hints scattered throughout Burning in the Sun that suggest that the quartet might have something more to offer, the entirety of its promise — the frenetic blasts of mandolin that dance through the title track or the jazzy undercurrents that anchor Boxcar Racer and Seeing You Through, for example — is wasted upon material that is utterly bland. There’s little doubt that Blue Merle is destined to sell a lot of records. Lord knows, it has positioned itself quite well for taking the world by storm. All that this proves, however, is that the collective has remained so noncommittal in its endeavors that its music has become lifeless, inoffensive, and banal beyond belief. These, of course, are the very ingredients from which hits are made.
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2005 The Music Box