First Appeared at The Music Box, August 2000, Volume 7, #8
Written by Michael Karpinski
It's really no wonder that today's would-be arena rock stars have become something of an endangered species. Not only must they compete with their hungry-cousin contemporaries for whatever stray strips of gristle trickle down the musical food chain, they must do so within the dauntingly long shadows cast by their Olympian rock-god grandaddies. Few embryonic bands have the requisite intestinal fortitude to bear comparison to The Beatles, Led Zeppelin, R.E.M., or Radiohead — let alone to transcend such rarified heir-apparent comparisons and carve out their own unique and enduring musical identity. Nevertheless, the Birmingham, Alabama band Mars Electric seeks to beat the abominable odds with their debut Beautiful Something. As mentored and midwived by "legendary" A&R exec John Kalodner (Asia, Whitesnake) and middle-of-the-road sound sculptor Greg Archilla (Collective Soul, Matchbox Twenty), the result is predictably slick and spit-shined, and like a spritz of Armor All on a '76 Pinto's sun-dulled dash, its rather sadly inconsiderable charms ultimately prove shallow and short-lived.
A big part of the problem is lead singer Jacob Bunton, who looks like some schizophrenic mix of Billy Corgan, Tori Amos, and The Cure's Robert Smith, but whose voice is nowhere near as distinctive or interesting as any of those singular stylists. Worse still, his insistently limp lyrics mine the same sort of "Don't know what I want/Don't know how to get it/Don't know what you want/Don't know how to give it" vibe that grunge pretty much completely sucked dry by the mid-'90s. Alas, Mars Electric's backing tracks are no less nondescript — recalling such blink-and-you-missed-'em second-tier alternative acts as Sponge and the Verve Pipe. The few songs that bother to aim higher ultimately only have farther to fall: I Give Up sounds like a not-so-wicked stepsister to Stone Temple Pilots' Unglued; Lucid comes across as partially-aborted Offspring; and All the Things packs all the oomphless impact of circus-cannon-confetti Foo Fighters.
That Mars Electric have every intention of eventually storming the Jack Daniels-lapped shores of rock 'n‘ roll glory is made patently obvious by Bunton's burblings on Another Day (On Top of the World): "I wanna see my face on the screen/I wanna see my name in the lights/I wanna shine like the stars/But I could never get it right." Whether Mars Electric will ever "get it right" and carve out a "unique and enduring musical identity" for themselves is a question that won't truly be addressed until their next record. To judge them strictly on the basis of Beautiful Something's consistently underwhelming freshman efforts would be akin to dismissing an infant who's yet to quit his crib.
After all, every burgeoning band deserves the chance to crawl and fall down a few times before it finally finds its feet. What's troubling is that, thus far, Mars Electric have yet to master the relatively elemental intricacies of "sitting up." ½
Beautiful Something 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 © 2000 The Music Box