First Appeared at The Music Box, June 2001, Volume 8, #6
Written by John Metzger
When a group with a modest amount of success disbands and its members scurry off to work on their own projects, interesting things can happen. In some cases, the musicians all succumb to their egos, fall flat on their faces, and turn in a tedious array of tepid releases that simply rehash the past. Occasionally, however, one of the group's members will do quite the opposite — creating something new that builds upon the former band's legacy, while taking it in some new directions.
Such is the case with Glen Phillip's debut solo album — the oddly titled Abulum. Here, the former Toad the Wet Sprocket frontman sweeps up his band's shattered remains and reforms them into a distinctly intriguing singer-songwriter set. As such, it's a worthy companion to (and equally as good as) Dulcinea, Toad's severely underrated crowning achievement.
Many of the tracks on Abulum — most notably the infectious Men Just Leave and the funky ditty Fred Meyers — will go a long way towards satiating Toad-junkies everywhere. But Phillips also succeeds in expanding his horizons. On the dusky waltz of Careless, he borrows a page from Wilco's book, and on tracks like the brooding My Own Town and the ethereal Maya, he leans a bit more heavily on the more roots-oriented aspects of his former band's sound.
This works quite well for Phillips too, yielding a masterful collection of songs with a looser, freer elegance. Throughout Abulum, the musical arrangements are used to emphasize his deft way with words as well as his skill at telling a story while also conveying a range of emotion. A suffocating weight of too much responsibility resonates through It Takes Time, and once again, he delves into social causes, tackling both child and spousal abuse on Drive By and Professional Victim, respectively.
But it is the death of Phillips' father that weighs most heavily on his mind. Darkest Hour is a chillingly tormented elegy, and My Own Town captures Phillips' own suicidal thoughts in the wake of his loneliness. Though the other tracks on Abulum don't deal quite as directly with the issue at hand, there is an overriding sense of frustration at the shortness, futility, and darkness of life that pervades each of the songs. Throughout the disc, Phillips' uses his experiences as his guide, allowing him to create something that is as deeply personal as it is resolutely universal. And while there are no profound answers, the questions are haunting and the emotions are sincere.
Abulum is available from Barnes & Noble.
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2001 The Music Box