Winter Pays for Summer
First Appeared in The Music Box, March 2005, Volume 12, #3
Written by John Metzger
Like many artistically-inclined songwriters, Glen Phillips suffers from a lack of confidence in his abilities, and for him, this tends to manifest itself in a cyclical pattern of self-fulfillment and self-destruction. In other words, his finest achievements have come when expectations were low, and he typically has followed his successes with outings that not only felt safe, but also were utterly generic in tone. After guiding Toad the Wet Sprocket in the creation of its pop gem Dulcinea, for example, Phillips’ former band issued the bland Coil, and although the decline in quality could have been explained by the subsequent announcement of his ensemble’s disbandment, he now appears to be falling into a similar pattern with his solo career.
Indeed, coming in the wake of the understated gracefulness of Abulum — an outing that no one really expected to be quite as good as it was — Phillips’ sophomore effort Winter Pays for Summer is merely an indistinct affair on which he tries too hard to chase the marketplace’s current infatuation with the sounds of the ’70s and ’80s. Consequently, the gambit fails because he can’t seem to determine into which niche he should position himself. Part of the problem, undoubtedly, is the employment of producer John Fields (Switchfoot, Andrew W.K.), who slathers the collection with the sort of crisp, run-of-the-mill, tricks of the trade that dilute Phillips’ songs and make them sound more manufactured than organic. In fact, half of the album’s tracks — such as Falling, Finally Fading, Gather, and most egregiously, the first single Thankful — seem geared towards placement on a teen television show or, worse, they seem designed to fit within the disposable confines of a music downloading service.
The other half of the material on Winter Pays for Summer fares somewhat better, if only because its softer edges strive for the pensive, adult contemporary worlds of James Taylor (Simple), Cat Stevens (Released), The Eagles (Don’t Need Anything), and Jackson Browne (Courage), thereby framing Phillips’ maturing lyrical sense with honest, intimate arrangements. Throughout the album, he reflects upon the pain and joy that life can bring, and he binds his suite of songs together with the understanding that the strength that keeps him afloat comes from his surrounding circle of family and friends. However, despite the invocation of an array of special guests — Ben Folds and Jellyfish’s Andy Sturmer provide backing vocals; several tracks were co-written with Semisonic’s Dan Wilson; and the band that supports him includes drummer Pete Thomas (Elvis Costello) as well as guitarists Michael Chavez (John Mayer), Greg Suran (Goo Goo Dolls), and Jon Brion (Fiona Apple, Aimee Mann) — Phillips uses his associates as a crutch rather than allowing them to serve as his inspiration. In inflating his music to gargantuan size, he conforms to someone else’s vision of who he should be. As a result, he loses sight of who he is, and his poetic intuition becomes lost in the shuffle. It’s when Phillips is his most personal — on both a musical and lyrical level — that he makes music that matters, and unfortunately, much of Winter Pays for Summer simply fails to resonate. ½
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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